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Your Clients Are Lying to You!

I’ve got some bad news: your clients are lying to you!

Whether you like it, or not, when you ask your client questions, they aren’t always telling you the truth. In answering, they may be:

    • Telling you what they think you want to hear
    • Telling you what they think you need to know
    • Telling you what they think the real answer is

No matter what the reason, if they’re lying to you, they’re not giving you the information you need to provide the best representation or give them the most accurate legal advice. But how do you get them to tell the truth? How do you break through the resistance and get to the real answers?

The 5 Why’s

The solution is a technique referred to as The Five Why’s. When your client gives an answer, ask them why five times. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s an example.

Let’s say you’re a family law attorney, and a prospective client comes in and tells you, “My wife wants to divorce me.” Here’s the follow-up:

Q. Why does she want to divorce you?
A. Because I’m always at work and not home with the family.

Q. Why are you always at work?
A. Because I need the overtime

Q. Why do you need the overtime?
A. Because I got into debt on my credit cards

Q. Why did you get into debt on your credit cards?
A. I used them to pay medical bills not covered by insurance.

Q. Why weren’t the bills covered?
A. Because the deductible was too high.

The Real Problem

By employing this technique, you are able to drill down to the real problem that your client asked. The marriage may not be salvageable at that point, but it might be if you solve your clients real problem.

The real problem, of course, is the debt. By knowing and understanding this, you are in a position to suggest a bankruptcy, rather than a divorce. This would get rid of the debt, eliminate the need for overtime, and have your client able to spend more time with the familyAnd reduce stress on the marriage.

But there’s also reveals a more long term issue. The health insurance offered by his employer is a high deductible plan, which has the potential of creating new debt in the future. Should there be health problems. You could discuss with him opening a health savings account through his employer. This would allow him to make tax deductible contributions to it, and plan for unexpected healthcare costs, which could otherwise derail their finances.

Channel Your Inner Two-Year-Old

Ask why — repeatedly!

Think about how you can use this in your practice, not only in your initial intake interview, as in the example above, but also in the handling of your client’s matter. You may also be able to get better settlements.

Consider a demand for concessions in that divorce, either by your client or the other spouse. Ask why a few times to see what they really want, what their goal is. By stating what they want, they may just be giving you an example of what will achieve the goal they have in mind. Once you know the goal, you are in a position to suggest alternatives!

Give it a try!

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Steven J. Richardson

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