Did you know that it takes most humans less than one-tenth of a second to decide whether you are attractive, trustworthy, competent, extroverted or dominant?
Give them a few more seconds and they will also make decisions about things like your social status, charisma, ability to lead, success, promiscuity, and intelligence.
In light of this, it’s critical that you think about the first impression you give your clients.
Here’s what we suggest you do to prepare for that make-or-break moment:
#1: Dress the part
Perhaps this tip is obvious. Lawyers are expected to dress professionally, right? You probably picture a tailored suit jacket, a conservative tie or blouse, and shiny leather shoes.
Actually, it can vary according to your practice area. If you’re heading into the meeting with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you probably want to err heavily on the side of a nicely tailored business suit.
If, on the other hand, you’re going to meet a pro bono client who is indigent, you might want to wear something that won’t be perceived as stuffy or off-putting. Read the room, as they say.
#2: Smile, but do it right
Smiling puts people at ease and makes a good impression. But did you know that the way you smile actually influences the way you are perceived?
According to Psychology Today:
Different ways of smiling can convey different messages: A large grin can make someone seem naïve, while a subtle smile with just a slight upturn in the curvature of the mouth can make people appear more intelligent as well as friendly.
So maybe try to avoid giving clients the full view of your pearly whites during that first meeting. Plus, just between you and me, it never hurts to practice your smile in the mirror.
#3: Be confident
This tip is especially important for that first meeting. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer who hesitates in giving opinions or comes off as being unsure. This makes clients feel like you’re not as qualified as you should be.
If you need to spend a bunch of unbillable time to prepare for that first client meeting, do it.
And remember, while confidence is a highly attractive quality, arrogance is not. Be confident in your abilities, and also try to keep your ego in check.
#4: Be on time
Being on time really matters to other people.
No matter what else you do, please do not be late to your first meeting with a new client.
Even if that client is coming to your office, don’t leave them languishing in a conference room or the reception area while you finish up whatever you’re doing at that moment. Be ready to start at the agreed upon time.
Among other things, it shows people you respect them and you care about their legal problems. It also prevents you from looking like you have too great a sense of self-importance.
We’ve all been in that situation where you grow increasingly frustrated while you wait for a professional to make it to an appointment or meeting. Don’t give your new client a reason to feel that way about you, especially the first time they meet you.
#5: Spend some time on small talk
While we’re on the subject of respecting people, be sure you take the time to show respect to your new client as a person, not just as a potential revenue source.
Engaging in small talk about things like family, mutual contacts, sports, or other interests can go a long way to putting your client at ease before you get down to business. In fact, it may lead you to a more meaningful and productive meeting.
For those of you who cringe at the idea of commenting on the weather, try shifting your perspective. The key to successful small talk is not to waste time on inane topics. It’s time spent connecting with your client on a meaningful, personal level.
And for those who tend to get carried away with conversation, watch the clock. Make sure you’re getting down to business so that you can be on time for your next appointment, too.
#6: Be prepared
Preparation is the key to a productive meeting where you look competent and capable. Prepared talking points, for example, will help the overall flow of the meeting and make you appear more confident.
New client meetings can still be very open-ended. In fact, it’s not unheard of for a potential client to make an appointment with you without giving you any indication of their current legal troubles.
That’s ok. There are still things you can do to prepare for the meeting and these are steps you should never skip.
How do you prepare when you have very little information? Try looking the person up on social media. See if they like to travel, post for business or pleasure, or anything else you can hone in on to enhance that initial small talk.
If they were referred to you by someone else, contact that person and see what you can learn.
Always be ready to answer obvious questions like the time it takes to handle a typical matter in your practice area, the cost of your services, and the ultimate question – “Why should I hire you?”
Above all, don’t forget that authenticity matters. Be yourself and have fun.
Remember, no client wants to be in a meeting with a lawyer. Your ability to be real and meet them in an authentic place will go a long way toward making a solid first impression.