“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln
Six Steps to Reshaping the Attorney-Client Relationship
The Six Corresponding Principles
Principle 1: What clients think or say they want is usually different from what they really want. As a result, clients typically shortchange themselves by striving for superficial results rather than ones meeting their real needs and interests. Learning how to help clients clarify real goals in seeking legal counsel is essential to lawyer/client success and satisfaction.
Principle 2: Almost invariably, the biggest obstacle to achieving a client’s real goals in a matter is the client themselves. Their inner state, emotions like anger and fear, stands in their way. By failing to recognize, address, and overcome inner obstacles, lawyers end up wasting precious time, energy, and financial resources. Learning the skills needed to help clients proactively navigate such inner roadblocks is another professional imperative.
Principle 3: Clients and lawyers commonly pursue legal matters with unrealistic expectations. This happens because they fail to properly size up the outer obstacles confronting them, such as the other sides’ interests, power imbalances between the parties, challenging case law, or the duration and cost of the process. To align expectations with reality, lawyers must learn to recognize and surmount the outer obstacles to achieving their clients’ real goals.
Principle 4: Even if they successfully undertake the first three steps outlined above, lawyers can sabotage their clients’ success by failing to create an effective game plan to attain their targeted goal. Without the requisite game plan, there’s a tendency to shoot from the hip. Such a tactic is often one dimensional, lacking in nuance, creativity, and surprise. It also significantly lessens the likelihood of success. Learning to craft a solid game plan is a prerequisite to achieving clients’ real goals.
Principle 5: The heightened emotional dynamic of litigation and business and conflict negotiations almost invariably causes parties and their lawyers to sway from their game plan and resort to habitual, reactive behavioral patterns. When this happens, the real goals get obscured, and the openness, flexibility, reason and creativity needed to move through impasse are inhibited. To avoid this emotional pitfall, a lawyer needs to learn to implement their game plans using key advocacy, negotiation, and impasse-breaking skills that enables them to identify and manage the emotions of all the players, including themselves, and keep their eye on the real goals.
Principle 6: When a legal matter resolves, lingering issues likely remain unarticulated and unaddressed on the intrapersonal, interpersonal and business/legal levels. When closure is incomplete, seeds of conflict are present, heightening the risk for problems to resurface between the parties or with their lawyer in the future. It is essential to learn how to identify areas of incompletion and take practical steps towards getting closure.
Legal Services must be purpose-driven. Too often, clients and their lawyers lack clarity of purpose, shoot from the hip, and end up with a highly inefficient process that generates high legal fees and poor results.
Delivering effective and cost-efficient legal services requires four phases:
- Formulate goals
- Anticipate obstacles
- Devise strategy
- Execute strategy
Legal services are primarily a thinking and speaking endeavor. Generally, the more advanced a lawyer has become with emotional intelligence, analytical skill and subject matter expertise, the greater the value the lawyer can provide to a client and matter.
Legal commodity provides a tangible output, such as the formation of a company, the drafting of an agreement, the filing of a trademark and the like. With advances in technology, legal commodities have become largely standardized, readily available and less expensive. Many business owners are paying much more than they need to pay for the legal commodity because they confuse it with legal services.
Some clients, on the other hand, shortchange themselves buying an inexpensive legal commodity when they really need legal services. Time and again, I have seen clients come to me after using one of the mass legal commodity providers to find out that what they got was useless and potentially damaging to their business needs.
Sophisticated Legal Consumer
The sophisticated legal consumer will use a lawyer that will help them decide exactly what degree of legal service and legal commodity is required and how to achieve results in the most cost-effective and time-efficient way possible.