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Why do you need a lawyer who listens?

At Pingel Family Law, it is our belief that one of the most significant and important traits in being an extraordinary family law attorney is being a lawyer who listens. Obviously, there are many important considerations in hiring a successful family law attorney including skill in court, tenacity/willingness to see your case through and fight for the important details until the end, managing their workload to a reasonable level that allows the lawyer to be accessible when needed, and many more important factors. When we hear complaints about “other lawyers” from clients or clients are wanting to switch legal counsel during their case, by far, the number one concern that clients have is some form of the lawyer’s failure to listen and/or communicate.

Why is a lawyer listening to you so vital to your case?

From the time of your initial consultation, you need to evaluate whether your Kansas or Missouri divorce attorney or family law attorney took meaningful time to listen to you. How can  a family law attorney build an effective strategy and plan of action for your case if he or she doesn’t listen to your goals and objectives? When you hire a family law attorney, the attorney should want to listen and deeply understand what your goals for the litigation are and what a successful outcome of the case process would look like to you. There is only one way to get the information needed to collaborate with a client on their goals: listen to you. Further, as the case progresses, you may have additional needs or issues, your goals may change or you may want to consider other strategies. In these occasions, you similarly need a lawyer who listen to your thoughts, values understanding your thoughts and wants to collaborate with you on your continued goals.  Effective communication will ensure that your case process is successful for you. If you are trying to communicate a hopeful outcome to a lawyer who is unwilling to hear what you are hopeful to achieve, your have minimal opportunity to meet your goals for the case process.

Sadly, some lawyers are too focused on their own ego. Rather than listening to your needs, they would rather talk about themselves in a consultation or meeting.  Some lawyers have done their job for so long that they take communication for granted, they assume that they know what “most” clients want from litigation and they stop actively listening to individual clients and their needs. Some lawyers view getting to a solution as soon as possible as being the ultimate goal for litigation. However, this discounts that the lawyer’s idea of an ideal solution may not be the client’s desired outcome, particularly if the lawyer does not take the time to slow down and actively listen to the client’s goals and desires.

No two clients are the same nor do two clients have the same needs for their case or the same desired outcomes. Any family law firm that works from a check list or cookie cutter paperwork is unlikely to be happy with the litigation process or the results of the case process. Developing a custom case plan for each client ensures that unnecessary work and thereby expenses are not generated for a client where the work does not or would not meet the needs of the client.

Communication is a fundamental aspect of work in the legal profession. Often we take the process for granted. Effective communication is part of what makes for success and satisfaction. Lawyers often see their job as getting to a solution-fast.

What are the characteristics of successful communication?

Family law attorneys who enjoy successful communication with their clients generally exude the following characteristics:

  • They actively listen effectively, it is clear that the lawyer values listening and is not struggling with you to stop talking so that he or she can get back to talking about the lawyer’s goals and agenda for the meeting or the case process;
  • Generally, a lawyer who is an active listener is also able to speak persuasively. Why do you care about this? If your case has to go before the judge for motion hearings or a final trial, your case is presented to a mediator for settlement or you have to consult with other professionals during your case, your lawyer will be able to skillfully argue your case on your behalf. This is the advocacy that is characteristic of an excellent family law attorney;
  • Along with speaking persuasively, a lawyer who actively listens is also a capable writer, which is important when the lawyer prepares and files documents on your behalf, provides other professionals with summaries or information about your case and argues your case to the other side or the opposing lawyer, even if working toward settlement;
  • When your lawyer is an active and superior listener, he or she is also generally excellent at other communication skills. This includes many invaluable qualities for a family law attorney including working to collect facts, develop and express opinions, and present arguments to advocate on your behalf. The most successful family law attorney-client relationships are based on positive, trusted working partnerships, in addition to the technical skills and legal knowledge characteristic of a skilled lawyer.

Fundamentally, clients want and need to feel that their advocate in a family law matter, with disputes about everything that matters most to a client in his or her life. In these difficult life circumstances, clients need to feel that their teammate in the litigation, their legal advocate has compassion, empathy and cares much deeper than just doing the work and getting the invoice paid. This is where active listening is invaluable in the client’s experience.

“Like breathing, listening is something we all do, but by doing it consciously, we can make a tremendous difference in our lives and the lives of others.” Steven Keeva

Why does it matter that you hire an attorney who is an active listener?

There is a substantial difference between hearing a person talk and listening to what they are saying. Hearing is an act of being able to hear noises made by another human. Listening requires a focused, conscious decision to not only hear what a person is saying but to go deeper in trying to actually understand and process what a client is saying. Active listening goes beyond hearing, beyond understanding and processing to giving verbal and non-verbal signs of listening. This includes not interrupting, not appearing to always be “thinking of the next thing to say” when another person is talking, and giving the other person non-verbal cues that you’re listening. Non-verbal cues can include things such as smiling, demonstrating empathy when difficult things are being conveyed, nodding, making eye contact and treating another person with the respect that indicates you value listening to them.

Many lawyers think that they are exemplary in the area of listening and providing customer service to clients. Unfortunately, they are incorrect. For example, a recent study indicates that 80% of law firms think their customer service is above average, but only 40% of clients would rank their firm as having above-average customer service. Similarly, 92% of lawyer think they are good listeners, but only about half of clients would rate their lawyers as good listeners. Sadly, this means that half of clients going through a legal process are struggling with a lawyer who they feel does not listen to them.

What is open-ended listening?

When your lawyer listens to you, a client benefits with superior case processing and strategizing.  Rather than your lawyer having an agenda for your initial meeting or consultation, you need a lawyer who allows you to set the goals and determine the agenda for information you need and are looking for. Open-ended listening is defined as not only hearing the information and processing the information, but responding to a discussion with invitations for the speaker to guide the conversation. This includes things such as “tell me more” or “what would you like to share” as opposed to answering a checklist of questions or guiding the conversation with comments such as “now tell me about this” or “you’ve told enough about that, let’s move on to this”. Allowing the speaker to guide the conversation shows that the listener- the lawyer, is receptive to what is being shared. The client, in being the speaker, feels free to share information, priorities and share his or her viewpoint without concern that they are participating in a consultation the “wrong way.” An opportunity for a client to have a satisfying conversation in getting his or her questions answered and to set the priorities for the initial discussion can often lead to a deeply satisfying attorney-client working relationship where a client can build immediate trust in their lawyer as an active listener.  In summary, meaningful and effective listening builds positive relationships.

Effective listening is a “people skill.” When your divorce or family law attorney demonstrates people skills from the beginning, it is a good sign that he or she is going to be a good fit for your case and the needs of your individual family situation. Being trustworthy, empathetic, supportive and compassionate are other necessary skills of an excellent family law attorney.

At Pingel Family Law, it is our goal to actively and meaningfully listen to every client, help guide you in determining goals and options, and assist with a "game plan" that delivers the peace of mind and empowerment to move forward based on your individual needs. Call Pingel Family Law today to schedule your consultation.


"I have known Attorney Pingel for more than fifteen (15) years. Mandee is a lawyer I consider a respected colleague. She has a reputation for being intelligent, knowledgeable about the law, well-prepared and kind."

- A Lawyer in Liberty, Missouri