Oh, they may tell you that they don't. "Hate" is such a strong word, and so forth. But most businesspeople really, really don't like lawyers.
Three reasons, all of which are related:
- Billing by the hour
- Using legalese
- Giving legal answers instead of business answers
And what do these three things have in common?
They're all examples of lawyers putting themselves first, instead of putting clients first. Hourly billing prices legal services based on the time the lawyer spent, not on the value the client received. What difference does it make to the client whether something took two hours or four hours? Rarely does the client get twice as much value when something takes twice as long (and thus costs twice as much).
Next, lawyers speak and write in legalese to show off that they are, in fact, lawyers. Rather than trying to find the clearest way to communicate with their clients, lawyers fall back on shopworn phrases whose meanings they're not even certain of. "Wherefore, premises considered" — I mean, who really talks like that? Lawyers use legalese the same way doctors and cops use the jargon of their professions — to set them apart from the people they serve. (For more on jargon, see Abandoning jargon "at a high rate of speed.")
Finally, businesspeople ask their lawyers business questions but get legal answers in return. How many of you have asked a lawyer a question about your business only to receive a memorandum on what a statute or regulation or court opinion says. You don't care about the dicta in Smith v. Landingham; you just want your lawyer to solve the problem.
So as we start the new year, lawyers should add to their lists of resolutions three things that put the client first:
- Price legal services based on the value to the client
- Use plain English
- Give clients business answers
For more about putting clients first, read Dan Hull's always-excellent What About Clients? blog. Dan's a lawyer who understands about putting his clients first. His blog's tagline asks the fundamental question: "True service — are we lawyers delivering?" I'm certain that businesspeople don't hate Dan.
Dan started the year off with a terrific list of client-service blogs, which include heavy hitters like Guy Kawaski's How to Change the World and David Maister's Passion, People and Principles. Check out the list here.
Happy New Year!