How 1950s Housewives can Make You a Better Lawyer

ImageWe all want our clients to be happy and satisfied with our work and the process of their case, right? Obviously. 

The problem is that much of what we do goes on behind closed doors, in the comfy confines of our office, in depositions, and in minor court hearings that the client would be bored with (ie Motions to Compel, status calls, etc). 

So how do you keep your client happy with the process? Especially in the personal injury area where cases can easily take 2-3 years or more to resolve…

The answer may come from what is known as the Betty Crocker Egg theory. Legend has it that sales of instant cake mixes were slow when they were first developed. After studies and analysis, a guy named Ernest Dichter suggested that the mixes (put it in a bowl, add water, throw it in the oven) were too simple for the 1950s housewives that were baking them. The housewives felt guilty and not involved. The recipes were changed to require the addition of a fresh egg – and boom, sales grew like crazy. 

Why? Because that was just enough to make the housewives (or whoever was doing the baking) feel like they participated and were a real part of the process. 

(Snopes tries to debunk the theory, but their explanation – that new marketing sold the cake decorating process as creative and participatory – still supports the basic premise here.)

So the key to a happy client is to make your client an active participant in the process. But an egg/decoration participant, not a whole cake from scratch participant. If they have to do too much, they will wonder why they pay you so much and wonder if they needed you at all. If they do too little, they won’t feel invested.

Some suggestions:

1. Send clients a copy of correspondence and/or motions filed in their case, along with an explanation of them. 

2. Invite clients to court hearings – even minor ones. Explain beforehand what they are and that the client’s presence is not mandatory (ie no need to take time off of work for a routine motion, but you’re welcome to be there). 

3. Invite clients to sit in on other depositions. This sometimes helps beyond your own client’s feeling of participation. For example, treating doctors are often more charitable with their opinions if the client is present. Defendant drivers are often more honest about what happened when the other driver is present, and plaintiff drivers soften their settlement stances after seeing a Defendant who admits responsibility and is truly sorry for what happened. 

4. Make clients an active part of settlement/trial discussions. It is the client’s choice when/if to settle and for how much. They need to understand that, and you need to help them understand the pros/cons, etc.

5. Have clients help with some of the basics. For example, the client might be better off asking their boss to write them a letter confirming lost wages. One caution – don’t ask a client to get their own medical records. I’ve never seen a medical provider – especially a hospital or nursing home – provide the entire record that way. 

The moral, I guess, is that you have to break a few eggs to have a happy client. 

(Howard Zimmerle is a trial lawyer from Rock Island, Illinois. He practices personal injury, medical malpractice and workers compensation across Iowa and Illinois. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com)

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