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Why Building Trust Might Be the Most Important Client Action in 2020

Our copyeditor, Thames, recently sent me an article written by Jessi Hempel that talks about the annual Edelman Trust Barometer. If you are unfamiliar with the barometer, it incorporates interviews of 34,000 people across 28 countries on whether they trust institutions “to do the right thing.” The survey focuses on four industries—NGOs, businesses, governments and media. However, the article and barometer also echo themes we are hearing in our client feedback interviews. And maybe even more importantly, they shed light on a true opportunity for lawyers and law firms to differentiate through behavior.

As the article explains, there is an interesting paradox happening for the first time in 20 years. While the economy is doing well and unemployment is at an all-time high, our trust factor (particularly among people with college degrees and high incomes) is at an all-time low. We are seeing a similar mindset within the legal industry. Whether it is between associates and partners, clients and outside counsel or the C-suite and management, trust is highly valued and incredibly impactful when present. Hempel writes, “Trust is like oxygen. When it exists, we don’t notice it. Our lives simply work well, without effort. Yet as it starts to evaporate, we grow increasingly uncomfortable.” There is great discomfort in the legal marketplace, and my personal opinion that much of it circles around lack of trust.

  There is great discomfort in the legal marketplace, and my personal opinion that much of it circles around lack of trust.

In the last several client interviews I have conducted, trust has been mentioned frequently. Clients describe trust as the key to a highly valued relationship or lack of trust as the reason for not using a firm repeatedly. They say:

  • “We trust her deeply because she is always honest with us if they have the right team for our current needs, and there have been occasions when she sends us elsewhere because she has our best interest in mind. This speaks volumes against her peer set at other firms.”
  • “I trust him implicitly. His ability to be candid with us, even if it is not easy, is something we highly value.”
  • “I never doubt they are going to do the right thing.”
  • “Trust is not an emotion or feeling that can be demanded or controlled; it is established. And they have established trust with us through their actions, not their words.”

In a world where so much feels out of our control, establishing trust within your client relationships is something you can control. Trust takes time to establish and is measured differently with each client, but it can be built through action. Take a step back and evaluate your client relationships:

  • Where do you think you would be ranked on a trust barometer?
  • Would they say that you often do what is best for them, even if the recommendation or action is not in your best interest?
  • Have you put yourself in positions to establish trust or are you simply in a transactional relationship?

Building trust takes time, vulnerability, action, candor, remorse and a genuine desire to be trustworthy. These things are not always easy, but they are 100% within your ability and control.

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