What Dale Carnegie can teach us about building a law practice

Dale CarnegieThis past week, I went back to the archives and read a book that I first read when I was in college. I have to say, I had forgotten what a profound impact this book had on me back then, and how it has changed my outlook and the way I treat people now.

The book is Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. The book is broken down into 4 main sections, which include thoughts on:

  • How to be an effective communicator
  • Ways to make people like you
  • How to win people to your way of thinking
  • How to change people without offending or arousing resentment

There are so many tips, ideas and strategies in this book that could be useful to a lawyer running a law practice. In this post, I want to outline the first two sections of this book and discuss how the principles discussed relate to running a successful law practice.

How to be an effective communicator

The first section of the book discusses how to become a more effective communicator. As lawyers, we communicate on a daily basis, making the art of skillful communication one of the most important assets we have. Mr. Carnegie provides three methods to become a better communicator.

  • Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. In terms of overall effectiveness when dealing with others, criticism accomplishes very little, if anything. All criticism does is put the person you are criticizing on the defensive and prompts in them to need to justify their behavior and defend their actions. In addition, criticism wounds a person’s pride, take’s away his/her sense of importance, and arouses resentment towards the person dishing out the criticism.
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation. As opposed to criticizing someone, you should be quick to praise. Many people, especially lawyers, are very quick to find fault with someone (i.e. their staff), and fail to provide honest and sincere (this is important, you don’t want to flatter someone who can come off as insincere) appreciation when it is warranted. Regardless of whether you are in the office, out to lunch, or at the courthouse, you should be on the constant lookout for ways to compliment the people you come into contact with. Plus, I’ve found that doing this makes you feel better about yourself as well, a natural consequence of making another person feel good about themselves.
  • Arouse in the other person an eager want. You must look at things from the perspective of the other person and put their want’s and need’s before your own. If you want or need someone to do something, you have to try to figure out what it is that will motivate that person – i.e. “what do they want”, and use that knowledge to have the person see how taking a certain action will benefit them.

6 Ways to make people like you

The second section of the book discusses how to get people to like you in 6 parts. Each of these tips and strategies, if done on a regular and consistent basis, have the power to transform your life and your law practice.

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people. Everytime I go into an initial consultation with a prospective client, I make it my goal to find something interesting about that person, and talk to them about it. It could be their work, it could be their children, or perhaps it could even be where they grew up. Everybody has something unique and special about them, and your job is to try to find out what that one thing is.
  2. Smile. Do you practice smiling? Some prominent sales coaches tell clients to put a mirror on their desk next to their phone, reminding them to smile when they answer the phone. You would be amazed at the difference this one small change can have on your practice. Not only will your smile radiate through to the people you come into contact with, but it will also make you feel better and happier about yourself.
  3. Use people’s first name. If you get nothing else from this blog post, try implementing this one small change in your life. It is so easy to do. Start trying to use the first names of people who you come into contact with – and whoever is answering your phones should be doing this for people who call your office as well. If you don’t know their name – ask for it. If you walk into an initial consultation with excitement and enthusiasm, smile, and use the client’s first name, you will be head and shoulders beyond where most lawyers are.
  4. Become a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves. This is probably one of the best tips in the book. Many lawyers want to default into interrogator mode, interrupting clients and asking a lot of “factual” questions – rather than just listening to what the client has to say. In addition, many lawyers will take out a notepad and make copious notes while interviewing a client. At some point, this is ok and certainly prudent. However, it is not necessary to make this the default practice the first time a potential client comes in to meet with you. Put the notepad and pen away, sit back, and just listen. Don’t interrupt, just listen. The person sitting across from you is going through a traumatic life event – otherwise they wouldn’t be paying money to come in and see you. Stop being a lawyer for a second and start being a person. Listen to what your prospective client has to say and empathize with them.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. Whenever you are getting ready to make a request of someone, whether a client or an employee or perhaps a referral source, remember to talk in terms of the other person’s interest. This means that you must put yourselves into their shoes, think about what is important to them, and then gently remind them of those things while you are making the request. Once again, as lawyers, we are all to often sucked into the trap of crafting “legal arguments” and pointing out facts that support OUR position. This is perfectly fine in the courtroom – but when dealing with everyday people outside of court, this is the wrong approach.
  6. Make the other person feel important. This is another great strategy that you can use when meeting with a prospective client for the first time. Each and every time you have an initial consultation, you should make a strong effort to try to find at least one thing that you truly and sincerely admire about that person – and let them know that you appreciate them for it.

The third and fourth sections of the book also have some golden nuggets that will greatly help you to run a law practice, but I’m going to save those for another post.

Have you read “How to Win Friends and Influence People“? What’s one takeaway that you got from reading this book that has helped you in your law practice?