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Building a Reputation for Fair-Dealing, Integrity and Goodwill

By Beryl Vaughan

Goodwill-Building with Attorneys (and anyone) is the only way to succeed with a lifelong career as an Expert Witness.

Building client goodwill and a “satisfied customer” is different for a forensic expert witness than other businesses.

“Satisfied” refers to the entire client-expert relationship, except the expert’s opinion. An expert witness’ opinion will not, and should not, be geared to “satisfy ” customers. There can be no implication the opinion is not objective but instead issued as a convenience to the client. That impression is a practice-killer. This article is about what isn’t the expert’s opinion.

Let’s approach “customer service” as a guiding principle manifested in the day to day business needs of the attorney-client, laid out in “Nuts and Bolts.”

Goodwill can be established with anyone. Failing to establish Goodwill can be a downfall for anyone.

Goodwill is the mutual respect and sound personal relationship between business and client.  It is an intangible asset. Generating goodwill builds your reputation and your business’ integrity.

Without goodwill of some kind, you’re just a one-hit wonder.  Establishing goodwill, however, is key to referrals for future work.

Supporting the Law Practice

During 20 years in litigation support, I was lucky to work with great attorneys who mentored me about what’s important in an unfolding case. At one time or another, I touched almost every task in litigation case management from billing to international licensing. I built personal relationships with clients that I treasure to this day, and that were a significant factor in generating client loyalty–another way of saying: a motivated relationship.  I also found that “litigation support” from outside the firm wasn’t always supportive, whether it was an expert witness, depo-summarizers, records management, even copy services When the attorney’s office has to do someone else’s job for them, it’s inefficient and costly. It’s not a recipe for return business.  (Continues below).

 

 

BUSINESS SUPPORT

BEST PRACTICES

Supporting the Client

The most important of my responsibilities in law and forensic practice has been as the go-to contact for clients (in forensic practice, the client is an attorney, employer or other retaining party.)

In your practice, who is the go-to person–on the front lines with your clients? You? Staff? An answering service or Voicemail?

When a client interacts with your practice there’s an opportunity to be helpful…or not.

Do you know the go-to people on your attorney-client’s case team?  Take it upon yourself to know them by name, personality and role.

When you aren’t the go-to person on behalf of your practice, it’s important to carefully select those who represent your practice. Assume clients will have as much, or more, contact with that person than you.

Staff

Frankly, clients know the services of staff are free, or less expensive, than your time*. As a paralegal, my billable rate was less than the attorney’s.   No surprise that clients preferred to turn to me first, letting me decide when to bump something up the food chain.

Helpfulness, Social Intelligence, and Flexibility

The concept of being “helpful” requires emotional flexibility as well as the skillful handling of tasks. “Helpfulness” is a business asset. Let’s take it up to the level of empathy.

Example: As a paralegal for 20 years, my primary love was probate/trust administration.  I was the person clients turned to for help when the bureaucracy of death overwhelmed them. Helping people in the immediate aftermath of grief is intimate. We’re in this human business together.

Business does and should have an emotional component.

It’s simple, have a good relationship and life is simpler and easier. Have a contrary relationship and you waste time dealing with it, emotionally and professionally. In business, getting this right is a business decision with positive consequences.

Being “infected” by another person’s kindness and attitude can be a very good thing.

“Researchers have found that when subjects “catch” positive emotions from others, they’re more likely to be viewed by others and view themselves as more cooperative and competent.”  –Sherry Bourg Carter, Psy.D.  “Emotions are Contagious – Choose Your Company Wisely,” Psychology Today.

Empathy in any form drives a desire to help, and a generosity of time and effort. It rarely goes unnoticed. In forensic psychiatry, law, or any profession, this lesson will never fail you.

A Personal Connection

Whoever your client, a sound personal relationship greases all wheels. The wheels in this metaphor are the progress and resolution of a lawsuit.  And progress can, and usually does, bog down.  A personal connection drives the mutual trust which motivates cooperation, which advances the case, which creates goodwill.

Nurturing the Business Relationship and the Power of Likeability

The ability to nurture a relationship is an excellent skill to have and that extends, significantly, to staff**.  This “ability” usually reflects Social Intelligence, paraphrased “the ability to understand and manage people to act wisely in human relations” (Edward Thorndike***).

To state the obvious, someone without Social Intelligence may not be likable.  If you don’t like an employee, probably neither will your client. No one fosters a relationship with someone they don’t like. If your clients build with your staff a mutual respect, it will integrate with the client’s business relationship with you.

*Note: these days it is just as likely to find an independent contractor or long-term temp in positions we used to think of as employees or staff.  I use the terms interchangeably. Either way, their personal characteristics, and training are essential.

**It’s necessary to promote your business in unexpected ways. The more your staff knows about law and forensic psychiatry or psychology, the more useful they will be.  Your human resources add value to your practice. Knowledgeable, likable staff can be nearer the “rainmaker” category vs. “overhead.”  Select, hire and treat them accordingly.

***Thorndike, E.L. (1920). Intelligence and its use. Harper’s Magazine, 140, 227-235.