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Seven Secrets to Success: Part 4 – Curiosity

In our final blog post exploring the traits that lead to successful client relationships and business development, we’re talking about curiosity. The article in the New York Times Magazine that inspired this series discusses the KIPP charter schools, which focus on seven character traits that they believe will foster success. Per KIPP’s site, a curious person is someone who:

•Is eager to explore new things.
•Asks and answers questions to deepen understanding.
•Actively listens to others.

And unsurprisingly, those are the kinds of actions that clients have praised for years in interviews with Wicker Park Group. Whether the attorney asks questions about a client’s company, a client’s work style preferences or just a topic of interest, clients take notice. 

Most obviously, it’s important to be curious about the client’s business, including what makes the client look good and relevant political pressures. Most lawyers assume they know those answers but rarely engage in the conversation, whether it’s due to apprehension, time constraints or other hindrances.

One in-house counsel from a large consulting company remarked to Wicker Park Group that while his outside counsel attorneys are very bright and pleasant to work with, he wants them to display more curiosity about his industry. The in-house counsel noted that while another attorney he knows often sends him industry updates and other legal news, he doesn’t see that intellectual interest in his outside counsel. He added, “[The attorneys] will get there if they are mentored to be more curious.”

A common theme we hear in interviews is that clients want outside counsel to introduce other firm clients for business purposes. Being curious about where a business is going will help attorneys to successfully network among clients.

Another client mentioned in an interview that while her outside counsel had become a very competent and steady attorney, he is too introverted and lacks the curiosity required to be a true advisor. “Someday he is going to have to come out of [his shell],” she said.

It’s also important to ask about a client’s about individual preferences, and without curiosity you’re not going to know the people who have hired you. We once talked to a new female in-house counsel who had been taken out to a scotch and steak dinner, which was her predecessor’s favorite entertainment. In reality, she just wanted to get home to her family and didn’t particularly like steak or scotch. But the attorneys had failed to get to know her, and she remembered it.

Think about how often you are asking thoughtful questions of your clients, and also think about how well you are listening to the answers. If it’s been a while since you’ve had a refresher on a client’s business model or personal preferences, take a few minutes and ask for an update. Your efforts will be appreciated and acknowledged.

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Being a competent attorney or other service provider is often straightforward, but becoming one who is a trustworthy, sought-out advisor is a lot harder. The seven traits we’ve covered – zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity – form a kind of map for how to be that advisor and dramatically strengthen your client relationships. By improving your client service, you are sure to gain a more loyal, larger clientele while also setting yourself and your firm apart from the crowd.

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