A Caring Lawyer?

A Caring Lawyer?

A recent blog post entitled “Where is the Concept of Care in Legal Services?” by Margaret Hagen at Open Law Lab sparked a pretty interesting debate on Twitter. The bulk of blog post dealt with care in a medical setting, and since “care” is assumed to be an inherent part of the practice of medicine it seemed logical that doctors would be good at caring. That may not be the case though. While doctors might be good at interventions in the body for our health, they may not be good at caring about what matters to us as patients.

In response, to the post and in Twitter comments, I suggested that too many lawyer spend too much time thinking about the process of the service rather than listening to the client. I say this not because I am being critical but this is how we were trained, to worry about process and results-even if that process and result is not foremost in the client’s mind at the time. I proposed that active listening skills are often lacking in lawyers, particularly those lawyers whose practice is often process driven, like litigators. Others posted in with some great comments:

Well, this might seem too harsh a term to describe at least one client expectation. I believe that clients pay in part to have the process explained to them. I have yet to hear a client react well to a lawyer saying “just trust me, this is normal” without any follow-on explanation. The situation might be normal to the lawyer, but it is not normal to the client. A caring lawyer will listen to the client’s words as well as their tone and body language. A client might say, “I understand” when everything about their tone and body language is screaming “I don’t have a clue what you just said, I am in the weeds.” Caring is not just about hand-holding, it is about checking the client’s understanding, inviting comments, questions, and concerns about what matters to the client.

This tweet hit a nail on the head. 

@ronfriedmann @ValoremLamb @margarethagan @Riskin Interesting prob for law firms-they think abt what they sell, not what client wants — Kenneth A. Grady (@LeanLawStrategy) March 12, 2015

This rings very true to me. I took a call yesterday from a client looking for a commercial lease. He was buying an existing business in a pretty rural area. The selling business owner operated the business on his father’s property. Now that the business was going to be owned outside the family, the father/landlord wanted a lease (and my client’s SBA lender wanted a lease as well.) My client and the landlord had a good basic understanding of what they wanted, a simple lease, clear terms, and not a lot of boilerplate. These were “country” gentlemen, not unsophisticated but clear on their understanding.

Many lawyers would get cranking on a form commercial lease that would run 20 or more pages, with provisions these parties don’t care about. These lawyers would do it because the lawyers care about what they are selling and doing as a firm (the service). Many lawyers would have heard “commercial lease” and gone right down that path without stopping to hear what the client wanted–a simple clear lease that protected both parties.  I hope that when I am done with this lease,the lease will reflect not what I wanted to write, but a lease that reflects what these parties wanted.

But client interactions don’t happen with robots-but with human beings with their own set of behaviors. Beth Fenton does make a good point here:

 Some clients may appear needy or stand-offish or spiteful. And yes, those vibes from a client affect the lawyer. But client attitudes on the date do not excuse a lawyer from not caring about what matters to the client.  (btw, I am not suggesting that Beth doesn’t care about clients or what matters to them). A lot of the atmosphere a client brings to the meeting with a lawyer is dependent upon how the client feels about what matters to them.

I love working with small business owners because they are, overwhelmingly, positive people. But I find that the quickest way for me to irritate my clients is to dismiss or diminish what they care about in favor of me wanting to do something. Often times I serve as a sounding board for ideas, which I love, but I have to remember to reign in my impulses to jump in a do things. What matters to the client at that time is having a counselor listen to their ideas. 

That is how lawyers can show care, but actively listening to clients.

What do you have to say? How else could lawyers show you they care about what matters to you?