Thoughts on Law and Life

The Official Blog of Astrab Legal Services LLC

Why Do Folks Dislike Lawyers? Part One of Four

As we all well know, lawyer jokes are a dime a dozen and they aren’t going to go away anytime soon. I often wonder how our profession has devolved to the point where we have been reduced to a punch-line on the Tonight Show and I’ve come up with a simple answer – Despite all of the training we receive in law school on rules and cases and statutes, the bottom line is that we simply aren’t good at relating to people or running businesses.

What are the primary complaints about lawyers? They seem to break down into a few basic areas:

  • We are too expensive
  • We don’t return phone calls
  • We don’t show up on time
  • We take forever to get seemingly simple things done

The sad thing is that each of these problems is very simple to solve through the application of basic people, business and marketing skills. There just does not seem to be a pressing desire amongst the masses of attorneys to get it done.

I’ll address each of these issues in four blogs, starting today with the big one: We are too expensive.

Time is money and all we as attorneys have to sell is our time. To each of us it is a valuable commodity, but to our clients it appears as a line-item on a bill. When they see 2.0 hours for a Pre-Trial hearing they do not understand that the prosecutor was over-worked, the courtroom was under-staffed and there were 10 other attorneys with their own matters waiting for an audience. We must educate our clients as to what we do, how we do it and that we must charge for the time in order to survive. Those two hours could have been spent drafting a buy-sell agreement, negotiating a divorce settlement or prospecting for new business. Instead they were spent in a cramped hearing room. The bottom line is that they were spent and that the client was the reason we were there, so the client is responsible for paying the bill. Clients should be told up front the specifics of how time will be spent on their case: They should know that pre-trials can take two hours and they will be financially responsible for your presence at the hearing. They should know that motions can involve substantive research that takes time to get done. They must be shown that their money is an investment that will hopefully pay off with the results that they are seeking.

On the other hand, we must also be ethical with our time – drafting a simple entry of appearance should not be billed out for a half hour nor should we charge for blocks of time in which we worked on a client’s matter but also surfed the internet and made personal phone calls during breaks in research & writing. Detailed logs should be kept and when bills are presented to clients they should be detailed as well. If a client sees all of the particulars of the work undertaken then they may be more willing to pay for services rendered in a faster manner.

We must also learn to work smarter – for example, during the two hour pre-trial mentioned above, you could bring along your laptop and spend a half hour working on another client’s matter, thus maximizing your time and creating perceived value for the client whose pre-trial you are attending – instead of billing him for two hours of in-court work, you can bill him for 1.5 hours and explain that you were able to assist other clients while waiting your turn for the pre-trial. This will hopefully generate good will with the client and might make him more willing to not only pay his bill faster but also to refer you new business.

Clients can also be kept up-to-date on their cases through the use of interim billing statements sent electronically. These will not only show that you are working on their matter but may also serve to lessen ‘sticker shock’ when the actual bill arrives. An un-billed phone call to simply check in and say hello can also go a long way in creating value to clients – they might begin to see you more as a trusted advisor and problem-solver versus a transactional time-biller.

These are just some rambling thoughts on the subject. Please feel free to comment and suggest some other ideas on defeating the ‘We are too expensive’ stereotype. I am also available for one-on-one consultation in the area of law firm sales and marketing – just ask!

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.


January 12, 2009 - Posted by | Law, Legal

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