I sometimes laugh at the notion of lawyers as counselors. We are not trained to be counselors. We are trained in the law and by experience we learn to be fighters. Advocates. I have always liked the French term "avocat" as it better describes our role in the disputes that dominate our professional lives. But what do our clients really need from us? And what does the idea of "wise counsel" include?
First – clients need and deserve our full attention. They need to unload the facts and circumstances that make their case, and they need to know that we understand their plight. Let’s call this ACKNOWLEDGMENT. They need to know that we understand all the facts so that we can help them tell their story. Every case is just that – a story. Our clients are not bit players in their dramas, they are the stars. So we need to acknowledge their role and give them our best attention.
Second – our clients need the TRUTH about their situation. We have the benefit of our education and experience. The key to making their position a winner is understanding how their facts fit the law. Once we know how facts and law will join, we need to tell them what we think about their position. Is there position likely to carry the day? If not, they need to hear that from us, before a judge or jury tells them what we so often know but do not fully articulate. The truth can save them money and save us the emotional upheaval every trial brings.
Third – our clients need the benefit of our ability to lead in the face of the storm – this is VISION. Vision encompasses more than just acknowledgement and truth. Vision transcends the tough times and sleepless nights our clients cannot get past. Vision is our ability to keep moving forward regardless of the collateral damage. But in tough times, vision is the first casualty. Think of a time in your life where you faced that seemingly impossible situation. Was your ability to see the bigger picture eclipsed by the detail of your personal hardship? Our clients and their families are under incredible stress, handling life and death decisions that grip them. They are often depressed, indecisive, preoccupied and mired down with anxiety and guilt. They need us to lead and to direct – they need the vision that comes from our view of the territory and understanding of the law.
If you are a lawyer thinking about next year – as I am right now – maybe these thoughts will help with your planning. My resolution for 2010 is to be a more client-focussed "avocat.."
I will try to not fight with the folks who have asked me to fight for them. This is not always easy because of their emotional state and the stakes involved in their case, and sometimes, the client is wrong. Sometimes the client won’t listen and will not take our advice. But I will try.
Have some thoughts for the coming year? Share them – and let’s do it better in 2010.