I Like Clients Who Don’t Like Lawyers

This is probably the most unusual title and topic I’ve ever chosen for a blog post, but it’s true – I like clients who don’t like lawyers.  Of course, I also like those who do like lawyers, but the first group is much larger than the second, so to be successful, I’ve needed to relate to people who don’t like lawyers.  Then, I’ve needed to take the next step – I’ve needed to provide all of the value, protection and advice that clients need from their lawyer, but in such a way that they appreciate and follow it, rather than resent or resist it.

This post, of course, runs the risk of offending lawyers, but I suppose the whole premise is that lawyers need to get over themselves and think like the business people who are their clients.  So, what is it that distinguishes me from other lawyers (hopefully in a good way), and allows me to work successfully with clients who don’t like lawyers.  I don’t know for sure, but I think it has something to do with the following:

• I like clients better than lawyers.
• I like relationships better than engagements.
• I like people better than statistics.
• I like talking better than e-mailing.
• I like business better than law.
• I like companies better than firms.
• I like solutions better than problems.
• I like proactivity better than reactivity.
• I like negotiations better than arguments.
• I like communications better than silence.
• I like conclusions better than analysis.
• I like simplicity better than complexity.
• I like certainty better than surprise.
• I like progress better than process.
• I like client business success better than client legal success.
• I like client profits better than legal fees.

Maybe the above list explains why I like clients who don’t like lawyers, or maybe it explains why some of those clients ultimately choose to work with me – and, hopefully, then start to like at least one lawyer!

Even Legal Problems Have Solutions

Have you ever noticed that some (maybe most) lawyers tend to have a “glass half empty” view of the world?  What I mean is, they look at challenges as road blocks that can’t be circumnavigated and immediately jump to the conclusion that the deal can’t be done.  They even speak that way in initial meetings regarding a project or transaction, informing the client that the desired outcome is not achievable – often before they’ve even gathered the necessary information to fully understand what the overall goal/objective is and how the proposed deal will help reach or further that goal/objective.

In my opinion, businesses don’t (or shouldn’t) hire lawyers to merely identify problems or tell them what they can’t do.  If that were the case, they’d be better off saving the legal fees.  Rather, we’re hired for the purpose of, and we should view our primary role as, (a) first, fully understanding the desired business objectives, and then (b) finding a way to achieve them, even (especially) when that way is not easy or obvious.  Furthermore, a lawyer should be constantly thinking and advising the client as to how the deal could be even better from a business/legal standpoint – whether that means restructuring to achieve a more favorable tax outcome; eliminating, reducing or shifting risk; reducing costs or administrative burdens; avoiding unnecessary complexity; or minimizing uncertainty.

Certainly, there will be times when the best service a lawyer can provide is to advise a client that a deal cannot or should not be concluded or structured in a given way (or at all) due to legal constraints.  However, even then, in almost all cases there’s still a work-around or alternative strategy that’s at least worth considering to accomplish some of the client’s goals.

Most lawyers are, by their nature, cautious, conservative, skeptical and critical.  Business people, however, make money by taking (calculated) risks and closing deals.  Their lawyers need to understand this and provide advice with the same “can-do” attitude that has allowed their clients to succeed.

Can Your Lawyer Really be “Full Service?”

Lawyers often like to say they’re “full service” – frequently right after they’ve just told you about their specialized area(s) of expertise.  I think this begs the question – can a lawyer really be full service; and if so, can that same lawyer really have any special expertise?  After all, have you ever noticed how many lawyers’ bios say they engage in “general practice, including but not limited to . . .” and then list every possible substantive legal expertise you’ve heard of and many you haven’t.  What does that mean?

I think the answer to both of these questions is yes, BUT only if your lawyer is part of a firm that practices with a team approach with talented colleagues having multiple specialties.  After all, no one person can be an expert at everything, but as a client with a business to run – where risks and opportunities aren’t neatly labeled as “corporate,” “securities,” “real estate,” or “intellectual property” – I want to know that my lawyer and my law firm not only know and understand all aspects of my specific business and strategies, but also that they fully know and understand the law as it applies to my business.  I don’t want to hire a corporate lawyer to form my company, a securities lawyer to help me raise money, and a real estate lawyer to help me purchase my office building.  I want to hire a “full service” law firm that can capably handle all of these matters, and can provide me with a proactive and strategic approach – not just because they have expertise in all of the relevant substantive legal areas, but because my lead attorney makes sure the entire client service team fully understands me and my company as a result of handling all of my legal needs for the life of my company.