Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Your Best Friend

Law practice is a business.  Make no mistake, it is a TOUGH business.  This doesn’t mean you have to be an insensitive lout to succeed, but you should to be AWARE of many things, such as…

The clients are not your friends. 

You can like them, you can care about them, you can empathize, you can feel their pain, and you can put your guts on the line for them, but they are not your friends.  The clients may even like you, but you are not their friend.  They want you to be a professional who works on their behalf.  They have a right to have expectations, and you have a right to look out for yourself.

You have a right to be treated with respect, to be told the truth, and to be paid in accordance with your fee agreement.  Sometimes these things don’t happen, and you have to look out for yourself.  How?  By being clear and direct when there are issues between you and the client that need to be addressed.  Clients often cannot address these issues with clarity and directness, nor should they be expected to, because they are your client, not your friend.  You are the professional, you have to be clear and direct.

The Court system and the Judges are not your friends.  You can and should respect them but you should know where they (and you) are in the scheme of things.  When you interact with them, you are in a business that requires you to serve your clients, and look out for yourself.   Who are the Judges and people in the Court system?   Are they in a business, like you?  Hardly. They are civil servants on a fixed salary.  There, I said it! 

When you make work for them they don’t like you.  They MIGHT care about people like your clients, but they might not.  They don’t want to take sides or ever be perceived as doing so.  SO, unless and until you put something in their face that forces them to care, they don’t care.  Often, they “care” only to the extent you have made them have to work.  This is often a big shock to clients, who think that when a case gets filed in the Court system, “the Judge” knows about it (they usually don’t), and that upon the initial filing they are interested (they aren’t), and that the Judge will somehow become “pro-active” based on seeing the merits of your client’s position (which almost never happens).
In reality Judges want the cases to be resolved without having to actually decide them.  When cases are being discussed in Court, the Judges and court personnel routinely refer to settled cases as “going away”.  As in “what would it take to make this go away?”  Clients don’t know that the Court talks about the cases this way, but they do. 
The Judges and Court system are not your friends.

Your adversaries are not your friends.  Sometimes a little dance happens in contested civil matters.  You need to negotiate on behalf of your client, with your adversary who is acting on behalf of his client, and lo and behold, you get along with your adversary.  I’ve become friendly with many lawyers who I first met as adversaries on a case.  It makes sense….I have more in common with them than most people I would meet.  The thing is, when you are involved in a case with them, they are not your friend.  (Paradoxically, sometimes your attorney adversary is indirectly your client’s best friend, because they are the only person who can convince your client’s adversary to do what is right)

In practice, while being aware of who your friends are (and aren’t), you have to continually do the three things that comprise a law practice (or any business):

Get new work

Do the work

Deal with the money.

Friendship has NO ROLE in any of these items, the essential elements of your practice.

Here’s what many of us do.  We are friendly, because it’s EASY and we are NICE. 
But if that causes you to not be attentive to getting new work, or doing existing work, or getting paid…

Then you are being awfully unfriendly to the person who should be your best friend…


P.S.. – You can and should be friendly to yourself, and friendly to others.  You can even act friendly and with compassion towards people who you realize are “not your friends”.  Just remember to care about you.

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