How Utilizing More Personal Communication Can Turn Opponents into Referrals

By Harry W. Greenfield
Partner, Bernstein-Burkley, P.C.

I’ve been telling associates and up-and-coming attorneys for years: The best way to resolve matters is to talk to the other side, not write them, not email, not text—talk. Recently, Forbes published this article highlighting the importance of non-text communication in business, citing research indicating that voice communication creates stronger bonds than communication via writing.

In my 50 years in law, I can tell you this is all too true. By picking up the phone or hopping on a Zoom call, you build rapport and trust through a more nuanced but basic mode of conversation. Some of my best referrals have come from lawyers who were on the other side of a case, simply because I stayed connected with them beyond text messaging and emails. Here’s why.

Your opponent just wants to work things out like you. Even though we may be on opposing sides, ultimately we want what’s best for our clients and to get the best results for them. When you have personal conversations with opposing counsel, you can often glean ways to negotiate and come to the best results for both sides. You see each other more as people rather than “the enemy.”

They understand tone. You often can’t detect inflection in emails or texts, so a message that’s meant to be straightforward may come off as curt. In a voice conversation, your opponents are more likely able to detect that you aren’t being abrupt or rude.  As an example, I have a dry delivery when I’m joking with the other side. They get it when it’s spoken. Humor is always a good icebreaker. Timbre and tone can be essential when it comes to fostering relationships, whether they are on your side or not. It’s important that your opponent knows where you are coming from and you know where they are coming from, too.

They gain your respect. “I’ll call you” is often an empty gesture. Many people, in and out of the corporate world, say they are going to call you and then don’t. Following through with calls and putting forth that first step in communication shows you’re true to your word, which demonstrates integrity to opposing counsel.

You establish trust. After a series of conversations, the other side will start to trust you, if you have earned their trust. This makes getting a settlement a lot easier.

I’m always more than happy to pick up the phone and chat, whether it’s with clients, colleagues, or opposing counsel. Sometimes one conversation can completely alter a case—and future working relationships—for the better.

Further, we are all humans who need human contact. On a call, I never get right into the case. I talk about how the client is doing. I find out about their kids. I find out about their other cases. If I find out their birthday, I put it into my contacts so I can send them an e-card. If your opponent likes you, you will get to yes faster.

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Written by Bernstein- Burkley, P.C. on November 23, 2020

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