August 01, 2005
Are lawyers just kidding themselves about delivering true service to clients?
Reviews on lawyers always have ranged from architects of great nations and the world's commercial markets to necessary evils who add little value to any project. We are said to be manipulators with at best convenient notions of truth. And horror stories about our botched or inattentive services are legion.
True service to clients: are we delivering this and, if we aren't, can we talk about why?
- Do we lawyers have a “we versus them” or adversarial mentality about clients when our main focus should be doing the job we promised to do and protecting clients from third parties or bad events -- the real “them” -- which would harm our clients?
- Has lawyer camaraderie evolved into such clubiness that we have lost sight of the client’s primacy?
- Do we regularly lie to and slight our clients? (Professionally, is that really any different than cheating on our spouses?)
- Are there built-in barriers which prevent true service to the client? (Are contingency fee arrangements with clients a built-in conflict of interest which can never be justified -- even in the name of “access to the court system?” When we represent insurance companies, are we fair to the real clients -- the insureds? Will we ever put the interests of the insureds first?)
- Are lawyer jokes funny to us because they sound like the truth?
- Has the overpopulation of markets with lawyers forced us into a free-for-all?
- Do many of us wind up selling clients short because we are disillusioned or burned out?
In short, did we forgot the main event -- the clients themselves? What do you really think?
Posted by JD Hull at August 1, 2005 12:00 PM
Interesting questions. Several were addressed at the ABA meeting in Chicago.
See the new ABA book How to Capture and Keep Clients. Authored a chapter there.
Good to get another blog on this topic.
Posted by: ted at August 6, 2005 04:32 PM
I read your new "blawg" with interest, but I was particularly interested in the recent article you wrote and posted on "Professionalism." Here are a few thoughts.
Civility among lawyers, while a noble aspiration, cannot possibly be an end in itself. A system oozing gentility that resolves no cases, rights no wrongs and restores no injured parties is worthy of little admiration, and will receive almost none from the populace whose cases, wrongs and injuries are the stuff of the system in the first place.
Litigation would never happen if people resolved their own problems. But (and here the entire legal profession rises as one in applause and thanksgiving), they do not. It is not the warm spirit of cooperation that leads one to call a lawyer to sue another, but the simple fact that they cannot agree with each other over some adjustment of legal rights and positions between them.
Enter the lawyer or, more particularly, enter the legal system. The system seeks to have these conflicts resolved in a civilized way, trading bludgeons for causes of action, cavalry for interrogatories. The race should not go the swift nor the battle to the strong but, instead, a reasoned resolution guided by principles of law and well-gathered facts is the civilized manner of dispute resolution to which we aspire.
We write rules to govern that process. In the main, they are written by lawyers, for lawyers. Presumably, we wrote them because we believed they set reasonable parameters for obtaining and giving the information needed to resolve the conflict and were equitable in setting timetables for the accomplishment of those important tasks. They were written with due regard to the needs of civility and, thus, perhaps the highest form of civility we may show is to adhere to the rules we have written. After all, they were written with the singularly noble goal of helping the clients achieve the resolution that eluded them and for which the legal system was created.
Exception situations will arise, of course, necessitating a specific adjustment to the rules. But unless we have done a particularly bad job of writing the rules, exceptions should not arise in every case.
Where exceptional situations do arise, civility works its best magic by recognizing the good faith efforts of those seeking to advance their clients interests by making reasonable adjustments to the parameters set by the rules in the name of accomplishing the resolution the rules seek to bring about.
Where civility systematically changes the rules on an ongoing basis, however, and where what is written in the rule books is honored only in the breach, dangers of the most serious kind can lie just beneath the shallow pool of civility.
The most fundamental concern we ought to have over a system where the particular lawyers involved create their own rules on an ad hoc basis is that the motive for this hybrid system may not be the singularly noble purpose the real rules sought to achieve. Under the banner of such a new system, incompetence and outright corruption may be hidden from the very people the system is supposed to serve. When the lawyers create sacred enclaves to shelter each other, the clients desire to vindicate their position and resolve their conflict will surely be placed at less than its proper place of most urgent priority.
Ad hoc rules can also operate to disadvantage outsiders to the newly formed system by befuddling them with uncertainty and smothering them in delay. Rules, real rules publicly proclaimed, have the advantage of being egalitarian, offering to all (whether members of the local club or not) the promise of a reasoned resolution for the client.
It behooves us to ask our clients about their perception of the need for civility in our system. Angered clients who would, in all circumstances, equate civility with weakness, should be ignored since to indulge that equation is to undermine the basis of rationality upon which our dispute resolution process through the courts depends. But clients of more moderate tempers would admit the desirability of civility within the system as an aid to reasoned dispute resolution, not a substitute for it. They want us to be champions for their cause, to undertake their side of the conflict with vigor, to seek their best outcome as a product of the reasonable rules we have written.
In one sense, those rules are a promise to our clients that they were right in turning their dispute over to a system that would treat it, and them, with dignity. We must always remain civil by being faithful to that promise.
Posted by: Bruce Antkowiak at August 8, 2005 10:11 AM