Thoughts on Law and Life

The Official Blog of Astrab Legal Services LLC

Why Folks Dislike Lawyers? Part Four of Four

This is the final entry in my series on why attorneys are disliked and/or mocked by the general public. As a recap, I identified four issues that stand out to me as the big problems with attorney relations. The three previously discussed are:

  • We are too expensive
  • We don’t return phone calls
  • We don’t show up on time

The fourth is sort of a catch-all that incorporates many of the issues covered in the first three: We take forever to get seemingly simple things done.

The problem for many of us in the legal profession is that for the most part we do NOT take forever to get seemingly simple things done, but the public’s perception is not in agreement.

I am once again going to revisit the area of modern life for the primary answer to this issue – we live in a fast-paced society and the American public does not have the patience of the past. The internet, TV shows that feed on short attention spans, the ability to send text messages and the wide availability of cell phones are all among the factors that have devastated our ability to wait for things to get done. In an era when we can get photos printed immediately from our computer, why can’t a lawyer get a motion drafted and filed with one day’s notice?

The answer for lawyers to this issue has many facets – the most important is client communication. A client who is kept ‘in the loop’ is less likely to complain than a client who is sitting at home stewing and wondering what is going on with their case. Frequent case updates via e-mail or over the phone are a great way to keep clients satisfied and will go a long way with building trust and stretching out patience. At the onset of the relationship, it might be a good idea to walk the client through an ‘average’ day in your practice, ie hearings in the morning, document review/drafting in the afternoon and evening, along with client/prospective client appointments in the afternoon and/or evening. They will gain an understanding that you are busy and that you value the time of each of your clients (hint: Don’t overdo it and scare clients away by making them think you are too busy to handle their matter).

Another idea for lawyers is to develop a daily checklist the night before of no more than six ‘action items’ for the next day that are of critical importance. List them by order of priority and set aside a block of time to get them done – during that period, do not take phone calls, do not surf the internet and do not schedule appointments. Just get the work done.

For example:

January 17th:

  1. Johnson Motion for Summary Judgment (filing deadline 1/20/09)
  2. Henderson Interrogatory Responses (discovery due 1/20/09)
  3. Smith LLC Articles of Organization (promised client they’d be on the way to Columbus by 1/21/09)
  4. Jones Request for Bill of Particulars (for filing 1/21/09)
  5. Letter to Sam Coyne re Settlement Demand for Billingsley
  6. Letter to Johnson re Bill is two weeks past due

The key is to not overload the six items and to set aside enough time to get these things done. If they are all time-critical and overdue or close to it, then you may need to set aside the evening to get it done so as not to neglect your clients during the day. The goal is to eventually reach a point where you don’t have time-critical items because you are properly managing your time. This is something that you should make your clients aware of – tell them that there are certain times of the day that you set aside to get client-critical work done and that it may take a couple hours longer to get a return phone call. They will appreciate the heads-up and hopefully admire your work ethic.

Going back to client education, it is important that clients know that certain items may involve substantive research and may therefore take a little while to get done. It is also critical that if the client needs to provide you with certain information necessary to get the work done that those items are clearly spelled out in writing to the client. That way if there are delays caused by client inaction, the written notice may deflect an impatient client’s frustrations.

What is not acceptable is going to play golf or taking a two-hour lunch when there are important matters sitting on our desks. We as lawyers cannot neglect matters entrusted to us by clients. It is not only good business sense, it is also spelled out in our rules of responsibility. Reputations are riding on our ability to get the job done and to get it done right. If the lawyer wants continued business from his clients as well as referrals, it is critical that tasks be completed in reasonable time frames.

The old days of drafting by typewriter and using the US Mail as our filing clerk are done. We must step up to the plate and accept that we need to get the job done faster and do a better job than our competition if we are to survive as businesspeople. If you cannot accomplish that, there is surely another attorney out there who can.

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 astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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January 16, 2009 - Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life | , , ,

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