19 Sep My Philosophy: Being the Lawyer I Want to Be
In January of 2018, I was taking a stock of where I was with my business, where I wanted to go, and what I was interested in doing. I started to review my clients and all of the work I’d put in until this point.
I realized that I had become a type of lawyer that I didn’t really want to be.
When I first set out to be a solo attorney and opened my own firm, I had a vision of being an attorney and advisor, rather than just a problem-solver. I wanted to be an advisor to businesses. As I was approaching the five-year anniversary of forming my law firm, I realized that I had become more or less a straight hourly billing attorney. I didn’t want to be doing that. I find that the billable hour is a large disincentive to the kinds of relationships that I wanted to have with clients. People get scared of that hourly attorney and, more specifically, the bill that is going to come at the end of the month. And, I think a lot of attorneys get scared of sending that bill at the end of the month.
I looked around and didn’t like what my service had become. I had started to spend a lot more time thinking about the kinds of things that lawyers can do – what they can do for small business owners, creative business owners, and growing business owners. I started to think about what those business owners are worried about. I think most business owners think that having a lawyer that you regularly engage with, that you’re working with on a regular basis, is something that is expensive. I’m here to tell you that it does not have to be expensive.
I also think that many business owners wonder if either the lawyer is going to negatively judge or if the lawyer is going to talk past or over them, or if the lawyer is going to insist upon a course of action that may not be what the business owner thinks is in the best interest of the business. I get those fears, I’ve had those fears as a business owner, and I’ve had those fears owning my own businesses on the side. I’ve had those fears and I am a practicing attorney. Those fears are something that I can sympathize with and empathize with.
But, here’s the thing. The world of business is so complex and every day business owners are having to deal with a dozen different things that are competing for their attention. To succeed, business owners must transfer some of that load to an attorney, an accountant, or mentor.
I don’t want people to be afraid of me as a lawyer. I don’t want people to be concerned that asking me a question or consulting me for advice whether legal or business, I want people to embrace the idea that I can be called. You can ask me a question and I’m not going to be that lawyer that charges you $30 for a five-minute phone call. I will be your advisor. I am not here to tell you how your business should be run or that your decisions are wrong. I am here to offer options, not obstacles.
One of the most difficult things a lawyer must learn is that outside of the law, we are not experts. Some of us aren’t experts on the law, either. In fact, the Bar Association frowns on us calling ourselves experts. But, the hardest thing to recognize is that as a lawyer, I am an advisor. And I am prepared to accept that my client might take my advice, or maybe alternatively it will inspire another path for the business owner. Either way, I am ok with that.
At the end of the day, it is the business owner’s business, not mine. Having that mindset of service and advice is far more important than any judgement that I could or could not pass.
I’ve also learned that most people aren’t lawyers. Psychologically, people have a belief that lawyers will look down on them because “lawyers are so smart or educated.” I don’t pretend to be anything that I am not. Lawyers are people too (insert your favorite lawyer joke here); I am just educated differently than my clients. That does not make me better than my clients, or superior to them in any way.
I had also made a promise to myself when I started my law firm. That promise was very simple: I would never, ever tell a client “I told you so.” Let’s be honest, I had thought it a couple of times. I have wanted to say it a couple times, but I have maintained that promise, and I will continue to maintain that promise.
The other thing that I think I wanted to do when I first started my legal practice is for people to be comfortable with who I am and who I wanted to be as an advisor. I think one of the things that helps me is that I own a business aside from the law firm. I see what we struggle with – cost of goods sold, marketing, the legal input – from a non-lawyer’s perspective. I see it to be very helpful and something that separates me from the typical attorney.