3 Client Cultivation Lessons from Last Night's "The Good Wife" Episode

The Good Wife has consistently provided--week after week--high quality entertainment, let alone important business and legal lessons that make it stand apart from standard legal television fare. Its nuanced insights on the convergence between technology and law are surprising for a network drama, and its characters' complexities and moral failings are refreshing. Last night's episode was no exception.

( Jeff Neumann ,  The Good Wife , "Red Meat")

(Jeff Neumann, The Good Wife, "Red Meat")

I suppose the obligatory "Spoiler Alert" is in order, but rehashing the plot is beside the point. For small business owners and lawyers alike, The Good Wife episode that aired on Sunday, March 22nd provided a treasure trove of useful lessons, including the following:

  1. "To Thine Own Self Be True"

    The story of the Florricks is Shakespearean on so many levels, so, Blurred Lines decision be damned, let's first acknowledge that all great art consists of great and often unconscious thievery. That said, the travails of Alicia and Peter almost took a backseat to Diane Lockhart's ruthless pursuit of a potential tech client at a hunting retreat. A dyed-in-the-wool liberal and feminist, Diane's attempts to land the big whale by playing along as a gossipy conservative dilettante are hilariously futile, because this is not who she is! By episode's end, she does discover that she enjoys hunting, and she recognizes the importance of remorse and humility. Authenticity means acknowledging and embracing the seemingly contradictory elements of your personality, values, and character.
  2. Give Far More Than You Hope to Receive
    Time is money, and it is important to recognize the value of your creative output, but in order to establish a rich and enduring relationship with a client, you must be willing to put in a whole lot more into the relationship than the client. What that "whole lot more" is depends on your particular business and situation, but, in order to cease being a stranger simply providing a commodity, you must give of yourself without the expectation of something in return. After Diane alienates her target client by trying to fast-track her sales pitch without having established any sort of meaningful relationship, she relaxes and enjoys a deep exploration of political hot-button issues with R.D. She is passionate about politics, and only after she gives of herself--in this case, her intellectual arguments--she reaps the reward of cultivating a new client. Even when it is not obvious or visible at all, there is real and valuable social currency in providing insights, ideas, arguments, and even products for free, without asking for compensation--you can't happily venture through this short life of yours worried about getting ripped off. 
  3. Know When To Cut Bait

    On the other hand, life is too short to immerse yourself in toxic relationships, no matter how much money is on the line. In a small subplot of last night's episode, Alicia's arch-nemesis Louis Canning enlists her help to donate millions of dollars to a charity associated with the family of his kidney donor. At first Alicia accepted, and she almost paid a catastrophic price for her kindness. Canning appealed to her compassion. It is good to be good. But assess the risk/reward ratio of engaging in a relationship that could ultimately be destructive, even when it feels like the "right thing to do." At our law firm, we post our flat-rate fees right on our web site, despite the high likelihood we will lose potential clients who balk at the pricetag. We want our clients to be on the same page as we are. We know clients don't like surprises, and neither do we. A client/lawyer or small business owner/customer relationship must feel like a two-way street with mutual expectations and a mutual sense of satisfaction; otherwise, the toxic relationship can lead to unimaginable costs.

A close friend of mine in tech told me he can't watch the hilarious (and must-watch for startup entrepreneurs) HBO show Silicon Valley because it hits too close to home. As a lawyer who, with an able business partner, started up his own firm, I don't feel the same way about The Good Wife. I can't wait for next week's episode, not because I want to know what happens next, but because I want to see how other, more interesting people (albeit the products of a writing team's excellent collective imagination) handle the intricacies of law, tech, business, and human interaction.