Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be challenging in any line of work, but that is what turns a great professional into a leader of their industry. Understanding what your clients are thinking and how they’re feeling is important to success.
Having empathy is especially important in the field of personal injury law. Knowing what the legal books say is one thing. Being able to feel the pain and suffering of a client is quite another. If you can combine those two talents into one, you have the potential to have a great relationship with your clients.
The Long Road Back
Shelley Swain Berry never thought much about being an attorney until she was involved in a near-fatal car accident at 23-years-old that broke both her hips, her pelvis, and her tailbone.
“At first they told me I wouldn’t walk again. Then, they told me that if I did walk, I’d probably have a limp. You don’t want to hear that when you’re 23 years old,” Berry says.
Fortunately, through intensive rehabilitation, she regained the ability to walk. When she was well on the road to recovery, her mother advised her to seek an attorney.
Unfortunately having worked for many attorneys who were less than ideal bosses, Berry’s mother had passed onto her daughter a distaste for the profession.
“My mom worked for attorneys for a long time, and a few of the bosses that she had weren’t nice. So I didn’t have a great perception of attorneys. I always thought they were either cocky, antisocial or just not very nice in general.”
When Berry found an attorney who genuinely cared about her and her family, her opinion changed. Her experience was so remarkable, she decided to attend law school at Regent University in Virginia Beach in personal injury and medical malpractice.
Small Enough to Care
Berry could have grown her law firm into a massive corporation, but she prefers to keep it small and personal. Instead of plucking top attorneys from other prestigious firms, she leads by example and looks for attorneys who are as dedicated to human decency and fairness as she is. “We have somebody for everyone, somebody that everybody can feel comfortable talking to after they’re in an accident,” she says.
“We’re not so large that people are just a number. I feel we get to know our clients. I want them to feel like they know me and they can feel comfortable asking me a question without having to go through ten people just to have contact with me.”
Berry offers clients a unique experience from the typical malpractice business. Being a primarly male-dominated field, there aren’t many women doing the plaintiff’s side of personal injury lawsuits. As a result, her presence in the meeting room and the courtroom is soothing for single women, mothers, and other demographics that can feel rushed or pushed by a male attorney.
What advice can you give to business leaders when they are faced with tough challenges?
Be flexible in every situation
“All the time it’s about thinking quickly on your feet and problem-solving. Keeping your client happy at the end of the day is what matters the most.”
Avoid Drama at all Costs
“One thing that I feel is important is not to get caught up in office politics. I really try to do that with a lot of people, not just the other attorneys, but the support staff.”
Personal injury attorneys often find it necessary to portray a belligerent, “we’ll fight for you” message. After all, every client wants to believe that their attorney will get them the best settlement. However, Berry has found that she can be as diligent at the negotiating table as her male counterparts, while still displaying and maintaining an empathic and personal relationship with her clients. Her formula may be different, but it works better for her, and her clients.
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