Fellow blogster Jerry Lawson and I recently exchanged e-mail messages about bloggers asking for links. That led to an interesting discussion about relationship management generally. Our shared observation is that, among other challenges of law firm CRM (customer relationship management) is that lawyers have limited views of relationships. 

I observed that lawyers seem to have a very different approach to relationship management than do business people. Lawyers seem to think relationship capital is very hard to earn and easy to lose. On several occasions I have tried to get partners to engage clients on topics relating to a firm’s use of technology. They almost always react along the lines “I am not going to risk my relationship asking favors of my clients.” In my experience, when a professional asks for a small favor, say a client’s view and a bit of help, assuming you’re not asking for too much time, it actually adds to the political capital. It seems to me most people like being asked their opinion and, in the context of an inherently one-sided lawyer-client relationship, such “asks” can help even-up the psychological balance.

Jerry seconded this idea, adding that psychological studies show that if you try to get a new acquaintance to like you, it’s better to get them to do you a favor than it is for you to do them a favor. This is exactly the opposite of what you likely expect. Most would assume that if you do something nice for someone, he or she would be more likely to think well of you. But the opposite is often true. Psychologists explain the phenomenon as a byproduct of “reduction of cognitive dissonance.” That is, the other person has a psychological need to justify having done you a favor. If you were unworthy, the other would feel stupid for having done you a favor. Therefore, they tend to convince themselves that you are a nice and worthy person.

What does this have to do with legal technology? If we are right, it means that tech managers who are developing client-facing technology should ask partners to ask clients to comment on the firm’s plans. Rather than viewing this as a bother, we think most clients would think more highly of a firm for asking. And the feedback you get is likely to help you deliver a better service. Both of us would welcome comments from marketing folks or others who can comment or expand on this theme.

This posting is also available at eLawyer Blog