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November 06, 2011

ClientTown or LawyerTown? Which do you practice in?

Do you practice law in a (1) "clients' town" or (2) a "lawyers' town"?

The latter, very common, is a local culture where lawyer clubbiness, lawyer schedules and lawyer convenience always trump client needs behind the smokescreen of "professionalism". Here we meet the lawyer as king, diva and sacred cow.

In a lawyers' town, lawyers and their delays, lack of discipline, procrastinations, disorganization, lack of business sense and failure to execute and move matters along--failings which would get them axed in a heartbeat at a well-run American company--must always be indulged. And even the sleaziest and most marginal lawyers must treat each other and speak to each other in a certain way. Client interests are secondary. Well, if you practice in a lawyers' town, are you going to do anything about it? Can we show some leadership? Can we retire lawyer "professionalism" and "civility" issues once and for all and replace them with something better: a new client-focused set of folkways?

Sorry, but in its current form, lawyer professionalism is a morally pretentious, archaic, hypocritical and silly movement which lawyers' towns tend to invest in heavily to protect and coddle apathetic, mediocre and lazy lawyering. It keeps standards low, and the tone lawyer-centric. Current lawyer professionalism is: "pro-lawyer", prissy, routinely and dishonestly misused by incompetent and uncaring lawyers in defense of their delays and screw ups, a waste of time and money, and anti-client.

Just talking about it makes clients think we have our heads up our wazoos.

Face it, folks, most lawyers are not especially virtuous, or even that bright. Or classy. We are not royalty. Or even brave. Many of us are hesitant, non-confrontational and risk-averse to the point of being cowards who hide way too often in the rubric of "let's be prudent". To the surprise and dismay of our own clients--who had thought that lawyers were supposed to be innovators, activists and true heros--too few of us fit those descriptions. We follow. We hem and haw. We wet our finger and put it in the air. We aren't "special". And we are a dime a dozen.

Now, in the U.S., anyone with enough money, barely average intelligence, well below-the-norm ethics and character, and the ability to converse without stuttering or drooling excessively, can become a lawyer. So let's not put on goofy airs.

Real professionalism, with the client as the touchstone, might have been a good thing. But ironically lawyer "civility" issues have helped breed in modern U.S. lawyering an even lower regard for the client--even for great corporate clients. Clients risk being relegated to mere equipment. Listen: Unless your General Counsel or client rep is Mr. Rogers, The Church Lady or Liberace with a law degree, most clients don't care in the least if you are "professional" (i.e., courtly, accomodating and nice), or if you spend your spare time socializing with and kissing up to the local law cattle. They do care about planning, execution and results from motivated, honest and aggressive lawyers. See "Professionalism Revisited: What About the Client?", appearing last year in the San Diego Daily Transcript.

Posted by JD Hull at November 6, 2011 12:12 AM

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