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February 22, 2006

Great Response to "Lawyers As Trusted Advisors"

In response to the post immediately below on Arnie Herz's "Lawyers As Trusted Advisors", I received a great comment from Mr. Moe Levine which is self-explanatory and republished virtually verbatim below:

Unfortunately, clients and markets are smart enough to understand that they don't want lawyers as trusted advisers.

There is a lawyer and sociologist named Mark Suchman, he used to teach at Wisconsin and now is on the West Coast, who has written very extensively on the fact that over time lawyers relationships with clients must deteriorate, because clients learn to do more and more for themselves. His best paper was delivered in about 1992 to a Bar Program in Chicago. The basic idea is that the more clients can do for themselves, the less they need lawyers and the more task specific lawyer client relationships will become. He really paints as excellent picture of what the practice has become and where it is headed.

I agree with 95% of what Moe is saying here. In fact, my firm wants its clients to not need or use us for things they can do themselves. We like that. That's good. When a client can do things on its own, that's an enormously satisfying moment for us--and a lot of what lawyering (and this blog) is all about. Smaller clients and start-ups can be taught to do lots of things on their own; common examples are safe hiring/firing practices, conducting a sexual harassment investigation, self-audits for environmental compliance, trademark and copyright applications and keeping corporate minutes.

You are finally adding value as a lawyer when you teach clients how to do these types of things and teach them when they really need a lawyer. Once "taught" they can bring more difficult matters to you and ones which don't fall under the category of "putting out [unnecessary] fires". The challenge is: (1) getting new businesses to spend money on lawyering in the initial stages of development or when a problem comes up for the first time, (2) teaching clients to do things themselves, or with minimum of our help, and (3) educating them on when they need lawyers and when they don't. You may lose "short-term" money, but you get in return long-term clients, more interesting work in which you are really "helping" and a real relationship with a client where the lawyer is valued as an advisor. And you have trust.

Posted by JD Hull at February 22, 2006 06:39 PM


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