7 Steps for Leading any Client Meeting like a Pro – Even with no Preparation or Experience

A simple framework and universal tools you can use to make you look instantly more professional.


This Negotiation Nugget shares the exact 7-step framework we teach at The Negotiation Academy LLC and how the included building blocks help you radiate confidence and professionalism in any client meeting.

Client Interview and Client Counseling Framework and Steps


Let’s look at how using the framework and tools of these 7 steps can turn you into a master meeting host who exudes confidence, experience, and expertise:

1. Small Talk

The first few minutes set the tone of your work together. Make sure you show an interest in the person, engage in some small talk to create a personal connection, and make them feel comfortable and special. The better you connect, the easier your conversation will be and the more they trust and respect you. Arriving early and having prepared topics to talk about go a long way!

2. Agenda

This is your first step in controlling the conversation and making the client feel safe by radiating experience and gravitas. “Agenda” is a big word. In most conversations, you just need a few sentences about how the meeting is going to go. This can be very generic and without preparation. Even without an idea what the client will want to talk about you can already shine. Adapt a version of this:

(finishing small talk..) Okay so here is what I suggest we do to make the most of our time: Why don’t you first tell me what brings you here today/why don’t you update me on what new developments there have been since we last met/why don’t you fill me in on your perspective of what is happening to give me a fuller picture than what I have from having read the written documents. While you do, I will be taking some notes to make sure I don’t miss anything and after you are done I will surely have some questions. Then we can discuss some options and see how I could help you. Lastly, we will discuss the next steps, what it would look like if we work together, and what the fee arrangement looks like in our firm. Does that work for you?”

These are just sample elements, but do you see what this does when you start with something like this? It makes you sound amazing! Prepared, knowledgeable, experienced, and in the driver’s seat! First impressions matter, and this little opener together with your small talk will put the conversation on a promising track.

3. Client Narrative

Next, it is time to zip it and hand it over to your client. “Okay, why don’t you get us started?”. Your main job here is to NOT interrupt (I mean it, listen as if your life depended on it)!

We are all guilty of interrupting much more than we care to admit. An important question comes to mind, a reference to some other success that offers itself, a comparison, or our own experience. Research shows that this is a big no-go with severe adverse effects on your learning about the case and the relationship with the client.

Studies in a patient-doctor context show that interruptions of all kinds (questions or statements or completing their sentences) result in significantly less accurate diagnoses and less successful treatment. In 94% of interruptions, the physician ended up taking over the conversation, never returning to what the patient wanted to say at that time (now you know how I chose my doctors..).

4. Summary

This is the key moment to show how well you listen and understand your client: You summarize what they said. E.g. “Let me make sure I have got everything. So you are saying …” (summarize it all). Then you end with “Am I missing anything?

Summarizing is a pro communicator power tool with 360° benefits for you and the client:

  • You are forced to listen better and can confirm that you have truly understood.
  • The client feels truly heard and appreciated (“Got it” does not do that job! Look at your client’s eyes lightening up when you actually summarize what they said!)
  • You sort your client’s thoughts and structure them for yourself and them.

This summary can already be the structure for the next steps in your conversation. E.g. “ .. I hear that we will need to talk about employment issues, incorporation, and data privacy. Shall we start with data privacy?”

5. Questions and Details / Counseling

Only now comes the actual legal talk. Starting with e.g. that Data Privacy topic, now is the time to ask your follow-up and detail questions and walk the client through their options like you always do.

6. Summary of Goals, Interests and Priorities

Towards the end, there needs to be another round of summaries that focus specifically on client goals. You know, that “client interest focus” that every firm has on their website, this is where you walk the talk! Find out what is truly driving the person on the table.

  • What are their most important goals and priorities?
  • What does this situation mean to them?
  • How does it impact their business?

As negotiators, we know that people will always bring us positions, but what they really care about are interests. This summary makes sure you dig for those before suggesting any action.

7. Next Steps & Fees

To wrap it up, have a small summary of what will happen next. Who is sending what to whom by when.

Fees: If the situation requires, plan to take a moment to explain fees. Most importantly: Own the topic! Don’t wait until the client needs to put themselves into an uncomfortable position to ask “how about fees?”. Because a) you don’t want the client to have to do that, and b) YOU don’t want to be caught on the back foot! Discussing fees is uncomfortable for 99% of people.. (or at least that is my impression in our trainings :D). The moment the client asks for fees, even the smoothest client interviews take a massive turn for the awkward with lawyers suddenly going “aaaah, well, usually, we, aah, do hourly rates, but we can also, aehm, see if we can maybe ahm do a package..

How comfortable would you be in hiring an attorney to represent your financial interest if they cannot represent their own? You and I know this might be independent, but the last impression and aura of confidence are certainly taking a hit.

So instead, prepare to mention fees yourself. This again shows that you are a confident and experienced professional (and you can keep it short and practice what you want to say beforehand 🙂

Summing up, print the 7 steps and focus on these four key takeaways for any client meeting:

  1. Be proactive in using small talk.
  2. Start with a small “agenda” to look extra routined.
  3. Keep summarizing to show your competence and make the client feel heard.
  4. Ensure that you drill down to what really matters to your client.

Try it out and let me know how it goes!

To your success!

Dr. Claudia

Your Negotiation Whisperer


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