Professional Trap: Better, Faster & Cheaper

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The legal profession is undergoing change. There is no question that new technologies, new business models, and a rash of new demands are presenting themselves in the market place, and lawyers are responding. Most lawyers I talk to are finding themselves in something of a crisis as they seek to provide more value at a faster pace while trying to remain "cheaper" than their competition. No matter what many lawyers provide, some clients are not going to be "happy".

Years ago I was seated in open Court on divorce day. There were dozens of divorce motions on the docket. Lawyers were coming and going, clients sat nervously in the courtroom while others paced back and forth in the outside corridors. In an elevated seat behind a huge desk sat the judge. He had been there many years, was well seasoned, and soft spoken. Gray hair and a well trimmed gray beard told of his experience, both before and on the bench. His small wire rimmed glasses assisted him in reading the reams of motions, briefs, and proposed orders that came before him. Every week he appeared as a rock before which the waves of allegations and claims were dashed; he was stedfast…needless to say, as a young lawyer, he always impressed me.

On this day he handed down his clear and well reasoned decision. On hearing his words, the losing litigant blurted out "but I'm not happy!". The litigant's attorney was embarrassed and the rest of us were somewhat shocked. Without a blink, the judge looked directly at the litigant, over those well worn glasses and quietly said "of course you are not happy, this is about divorce". With that, the clients and attorneys withdrew and were replaced by the next combatants before him.

The judge had a long, happy, and very distinguished career. Despite being at the center of dispute, anxiety, and negativity, I never saw him down. He maintained a dry and quick sense of humor. His example has served me well in my life as a lawyer.

Sure there are changes going on in our profession. Sure there are pressures. There will always be reasons why we are under pressure. If you take a historical look, our profession has always been required to respond to change. Our challenge is to resist the temptation to use the better, faster, cheaper story to justify unprofessional behaviors. Our clients are our benefactors, not our enemies. Most lawyers do not get through their first year of practice without hearing "this would be a pretty good living if it weren't for clients". Do not fall prey to this story. Our clients deserve the best we can do, not just our best given time restraints or money restraints. Sure, some clients have unreal expectations but this will always be true. We must help our clients understand what we can do and the permissible boundaries of our practice. It is up to us to keep our clients reasonable…if you have problems with this seek out some help and learn some ways to approach clients so as to reform their expectations. If you feel pressure, find some healthy outlets to deal with the pressure before the pressure you perceive starts to affect your professional behaviors. Whatever you do being aware of the trap will help you avoid it.

Posted on May 30, 2014 .