I am a lawyer and I talk to a lot of lawyers. We come in all shapes and sizes but we all come with certain commonality. We have families, limitations to our time, and bills to pay…just like everybody else.
If you have practiced in private practice for any amount of time, you have talked to a variety of people who are looking for answers to their problems. Family issues, money issues, partnership issues…you know-issues…just like us.
People talk about lawyers in general as a selfish lot. My own independent poll of folks over the years tells me that he biggest fear people have in talking to a lawyer is that they will get advise that benefits the lawyer, and not them. True, this occurs all the time so who can blame them? My own independent poll of lawyers over the years tells me that the biggest fear of lawyers is that their next appointment will be with someone who only cares about solving their own problems, and that they could not care less about how the solution might impact the lawyer… people want something for nothing or the "cheapest" price. They do not understand how we can dare to charge so much for our time or what the cost of our profession might mean to our personal lives and relationships.
One natural result of all this is that people do not like lawyers and they distrust them. Another natural result is that lawyers don't like people, and that they distrust them.
How about a new solution to this problem? I call this "Compassionate Business" a phrase I have taken from a brilliant music manager but it seems that it could be helpful to lawyers and their clients alike. What if we use this phrase to mean that we both agree to filter our problems and issues through a process that weeds out the trash and lets us get together and do business in a positive way. It may be up to the lawyers to catch on, and walk prospective clients through this so that they can understand the filter and its benefits…properly used, this filter might just filter out the mistrust and suspicion that results in a division between lawyers and non-lawyers.
Start by a asking people to set aside their want to get something for nothing, or to get the "cheapest" lawyer they can get? I have asked potential clients this question "what do you think will cost you the most in the long run, the cheapest lawyer, or a or an expensive lawyer?"… the answer comes back pretty clear…then we can get on to business. I have mentioned to clients many times, after hearing their initial problem "are you concerned that I may give you advise that helps me more than it helps you?" Usually, the person is honest and they answer "yes". We can then discuss how the matter can be handled with our interests merged so that my best advise is the best for both them and me. A little creative thought and discussion can result in an agreement that fits the bill.
Of course, the result is that I rarely have a case where I make way more money than my client does. Rarely does my effort go unrewarded and rarely does my client get something for nothing. Usually, we agree that we have both made the best of the situation…I get a lot of repeat business which is something I take pride in because many of my clients are lawyers themselves. Sure, I have to turn down potentially lucrative work because I know that even if we "win", it will be a loss to my client. Loss may be measured in money, but it can also be measured in family misery, loss of health due to worry, or loss of productivity for my client because of distraction and worry. In turn I benefit. I do not find myself taking ridiculous and untenable positions in court. Most of my litigation cases settle- win-win for both sides. I make a good living without having to carry the burden of worry that I might run into an ex-client who might chew me out or worse, give me the eye, the eye that tells me that they know that they are poorer for our encounter. I have to admit that this discovery had been learned over 30 plus years of practice. I wish I had known of this process and had learned how to positively approach prospective clients in a law school class. I do not know if there is such a class in Law School, if not, perhaps that would be a good idea.
If you are a client, bring an issue that a lawyer can get paid to handle…but you may not know that until you talk to the lawyer. If you are a lawyer, be transparent, ask questions, and listen to see if there is an opportunity to help your client while you are helping yourself.