GPSOLO January/February 2008
From the Editor
Lawyers, Clients, and the Practice of Law
The ABA Journal Online recently referenced the author Richard Susskind, whose new book, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, is due out in 2008. In an excerpt from the book, Susskind challenges lawyers “to ask themselves, with their hands on their hearts, what elements of their current workload could be undertaken differently—more quickly, cheaply, efficiently, or to a higher quality—using alternative methods of working.”
When I graduated from Pepperdine University School of Law back in the 1900s, laptops were unknown. I used a Smith Corona manual typewriter and carbon paper. Computers were massive and expensive.
Now we use laptops, PDAs, cell phones, mobile printers, faxes, and online research sites to practice law. We work in virtual offices and create PDFs and electronic files. Witnesses testify via live video beamed into courtrooms onto 60-inch plasma screens. Jurors use computer monitors to view documents. It’s interactive law, à la the video game.
Clients watch legal shows on television and expect the real-life court system to reflect what they see there. Remember Divorce Court from the 1960s? Then there was L.A. Law and The People’s Court, with Judge Wapner and his trusty bailiff, Rusty. Now we have Judge Judy and Judge Mills Lane (a former boxing referee famous for disqualifying Mike Tyson after he bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear—now that took guts). I daresay many of us have clients who believe they can prove their case solely with affidavits because, well, it works on television. This is where our clients are learning about the law and its practice. Clients also expect lawyers to be available 24/7. Ever ask yourself just what a client expects you to do at 9:00 pm on Easter Sunday night? Yeah, me, too.
Should we be available every hour of every day? Do lawyers have the right to take a vacation from their practice? Are we unethical if we don’t return a client’s call immediately? Is it okay for your support staff to tell a client you’re in court, with another client, or just unavailable?
Should we expect our clients to be available 24/7? Ever ask if they are available to their customers 24/7? What have we gotten ourselves into?
This issue of GPSOLO deals with clients, their care and feeding. Few of us became lawyers with the idea that we would be at a client’s constant beck and call. Doing so does not promote excellent service. It does promote resentment and burnout, something about which many of us know a great deal.
With all the law being practiced on primetime television, we see clients second-guessing every piece of advice we offer. They think more of the advice given by a friend or what they heard about a similar case from another state. It’s frustrating and discouraging, yet still we persist.
Some folks argue that lawyers should only represent clients they like. Providing great legal service to clients can be difficult, especially if the client is a royal pain in the tuchas! No one enjoys working with a client who pushes their buttons. All lawyers have the goal of getting a client’s repeat business, but if the client is unpleasant, who wants to develop a long-term relationship—particularly with a client whose name alone triggers an anxiety attack?
I can just hear the younger lawyers complain, “That’s easy for you to say, but I’ve got bills to pay.” Okay, it’s not just the young lawyers. Still, how do we deal with clients we do not like? The care and feeding of clients also involves taking care of ourselves. We persist because, deep down, we believe in the law. We believe in our abilities to help make things better. Still, we must remember: illegitimi non carborundum (don’t let the b*stards grind you down).Once again, we have a great lineup of articles in this issue. Our authors came through with insightful suggestions about the business of law, addressing client wants and needs, and ethical considerations. The articles are right on target in raising issues we all think about. Now you have some additional tools to use in your practice. Let me know what you think about this issue. And, remember, we are always in the market for authors. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joan M. Burda, editor-in-chief of GPSOLO, operates a solo practice in Lakewood, Ohio, and may be reached at email@example.com.