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Seven Secrets to Success: Curiosity

Wicker Park Group periodically revisits some of our most popular blog posts. This is the fourth in a series of posts updated from 2013. The qualities explored continue to resonate with what clients are telling us they desperately need from outside counsel. So far, we have written about Zest, Grit and Self ControlGratitude and Optimism and Social Intelligence.

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 WPG.

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 WPG 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.”

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 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 map for how to be that advisor and dramatically strengthen your client relationships.

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