Client Intake: 3 ways to help clients remember your advice.

How Much Do Your Clients Remember?

There is a common saying in the education and training field:

  • People remember 5% of what you tell them;
  • 30% of what you show them;
  • And 50% of what you tell AND show them.

This is often referred to as “the cone of learning” or “the learning pyramid.”

Although catchy, in truth, this is an oversimplified generalization for what is a highly complex neurological process. Nevertheless, one will be hard-pressed to find an effective educator who does not employ the show/tell methodology during training. This should come as little surprise to attorneys, as good trial lawyers have known for years that to really hook a jury, visual aids are the way to go.

But there is also a more general lesson for attorneys practicing in consumer-facing legal spaces, where clients are often unfamiliar with basic legal processes.


Consumer-Facing Lawyers

Consumer-facing lawyers serve individuals who are one-time or occasional participants in the legal system. Practice areas include: (1) Plaintiffs’ Personal Injury Law; (2) Personal Bankruptcy; (3) Family Law; and (4) Criminal Law and DUI. These clients are usually one-time legal consumers who require an attorney to help them solve a single problem, and they are generally unfamiliar with the legal process.

man-wearing-blue-blazer-on-business-meeting-picjumbo-comThis presents a natural challenge for attorneys serving this clientele. In addition to solving legal problems, these lawyers must cultivate trust and also educate their clients enough to participate meaningfully in their representation. There is no substitute a for one-on-one conversation with a lawyer. However, these interactions are only temporary, and they are naturally limited by restrictions on the attorney’s time.

And again, there is the problem of retention - how much does a client actually remember after a meeting or initial consult?

Fortunately, retention is a highly studied concept. One common measure is called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. In short, this curve attempts to chart what we already know to be true, which is that memories tend to fade over time. According to the Ebbinghaus curve, a shocking 67% of information disappears within 24 hours after learning it. This degradation can be even higher if concepts are complicated or unfamiliar to the learner, and it gets worse over time.

This is a problem for those of us representing clients whose cases may stretch over weeks, months, or even years. It causes added stress for clients, and may even increase client error rates while a case is ongoing.


Three Retention Strategies:

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that attorneys and other professionals can use to increase retention and ensure that a client is familiar with a process.

(1) Repetition

The first strategy is repetition. Repetition has been shown to drastically reduce the rate at whichwebdesigners-sticky-notes-picjumbo-cominformation degrades over time. What does this mean to lawyers? It means that clients can benefit from repeated exposure to basic legal concepts over a period of days and months. This means that updates, written educational materials, and visual aids, should be provided to a client over a period of days or weeks.

Although it is critical to provide a client with all the relevant information they need during an intake meeting, as well as provide them with some concrete next steps, consider "dripping" background information about the legal process to clients over a longer period of time. This provides reinforcement and reminds clients about ongoing actions they need to take to support their attorney going forward.

Consider a PI lawyer who wants to make especially clear that a client must immediately forward all medical lien notices they receive while treatment is ongoing. In addition to mentioning this during an intake meeting, this lawyer would do well to reinforce the importance of this action with follow-up educational materials that explain how problems can arise if a client does not take the required action. Making this information available to a client through an on-demand personalized web portal also means that a client can refer back to this information multiple times throughout the life of their case.

(2) Multimodal Instruction

Another strategy is to ensure that the educational materials themselves are engaging and structured to maximize understanding and retention. Multimodal instruction is a powerful concept that many trial lawyers would recognize. Again, why just tell when you can also show?

In a nutshell, multimodal instruction holds that the more ways you learn something, the more likely you are to understand it. Modern neuroscience and improvements in fMRI imaging have begun to shed some light on our cognitive processes, and so far they appear to strongly support this method.

For example, rather than verbally explaining a process, multimodal instruction would engage multiple sensory modalities - such as audio and visual information, or even visual and tactile in the case of medical models. In the legal space, much of what we do revolves around the written word. However, integrated use of audio, text and visual diagrams can make complicated concepts much easier to understand.

(3) Scaffolding

Finally, consider scaffolding information. Scaffolding simply means that a client is more likely to understand and recall information if it is delivered in a gradual way that builds on prior knowledge. There are many ways to incorporate scaffolding into client education. One way is to provide information about discrete parts of a legal process over time to make sure that a client is not overloaded during a single meeting. This avoids the “drinking from a fire hose” problem.

Another effective strategy is to first provide a general overview of a process, purposefully avoiding complex details. This familiarizes a client with the basic process, and provides a foundation on which a lawyer or paralegal can later build. As more detailed and complex information is provided, a client can refer back to the overview to maintain their orientation. Lawyers who prepared outlines before law school exams are already well-versed in this technique. An outline might be complex, but what are the key headings in each section?

Finally, don't be shy about engaging a client's prior knowledge when explaining concepts. Random information provided in isolation is incredibly difficult to remember. However, if we can relate a concept to something we are already familiar with, it becomes much easier to understand and to remember. One common theme in law is the issue of fairness. So if there is an easy-to-understand reason that a procedure or rule exists, mention why.


Can we Help?

At ClientLegalEd, we have developed a client education platform to help consumer-facing attorneys support their clients. Give us a ring, and we can discuss whether we are a good fit for your practice.

1 Comment

  1. Addrienne on March 3, 2017 at 9:59 am

    That’s a sensible answer to a cheallnging question

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