Clients Should “Have it Their Way”

Remember the old Burger King commercials with the “Have it your way” theme?  It’s really just another variation on the saying that “The customer is always right.”  I’ve often wondered why lawyers find it so hard to follow these simple guidelines.  I’ve now concluded that it’s just another example of lawyers who don’t (or for some reason, can’t) follow the basic advice of this blog – know your client well and let the particular client’s business issues, objectives and desired approach determine the appropriate legal strategies. 

Recently I’ve had a chance to consider this disconnect even more closely, as I had the unfortunate situation where a colleague provided very lawyerly and somewhat convoluted legal analysis (note the word “analysis,” rather than “answer” or “solution”) to a client’s seemingly simple business question (that was, admittedly, a bit complex from a legal standpoint), and the client was unhappy. 

Now two things are important to understand in the above scenario:

– first, the analysis provided was correct from a legal standpoint and actually hinted (note the problem here) that the client could likely do what he wanted to do; and

– second, although this involved a multi-million dollar issue, this client (like most) does not appreciate complex legal analysis, but rather wants simple business solutions – in other words, the client wants to know if he can do what he wants to do, and if not, if there’s a way to accomplish what he wants to accomplish.  It’s about solutions, not analysis.

The “cure,” of course, was a quick follow-up to simplify the situation by more specifically identifying the client’s objectives and suggesting an approach that – while different than the approach proposed by the client – accomplished these objectives in a simple and practical manner.  In other words, we explained the risks and made the analysis available, but we focused on the business solution, not the legal problem/analysis.  Once we did that, the problem was solved; the client was happy; and the deal got done.  Lesson learned.

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