The other day I saw a social media post from a well known firm. Together with a lovely image, it said that:
the client always comes first
I’m not here to suggest that your client isn’t important.
In fact, your client is clearly someone you want to look after, and excellent client service is a critical element for any law firm that wants to survive. If you don’t look after your clients, you simply won’t have any.
But there are two problem words in the statement:
Legal Ethics 101law and the legal profession need to distinguish themselves - we're not just hired gunsClick To Tweet
The first barrier to your client coming first should be obvious: your ethics don’t allow it.
In Australia, at least, the chances are that you’ve got something similar to this looming over you:
A solicitor’s duty to the court and the administration of justice is paramount and prevails to the extent of inconsistency with any other duty
So while it’s a cool marketing tactic to say that your client always comes first, this is where law and the legal profession need to distinguish themselves – we’re not just hired guns.
There are any number of things your client may like you to do which you simply can’t. They include:
- hiding relevant information from the Court
- lying to another party or the Court
- destroying documents
- allowing your client to destroy documents
- continuing to act when you know your client has lied to the Court.
These things aren’t always the easiest to explain to your clients, but they are an absolute necessity – and they mean that your client doesn’t come first when it comes to the administration of justice.
Familyall things being equal - clients don't trump familyClick To Tweet
This one is challenging on a number of levels. After all, many people say “family always comes first” but that’s just as untrue as saying “clients always come first”.
It’s subtle and requires a case by case assessment of your priorities and the urgency or importance of an issue.
If I’m in the middle of singing happy birthday to my daughter and a client calls my phone, there’s a pretty good chance I won’t answer. I’ll call them back at some point, of course, but I’m not going to allow a special occasion to be so easily interrupted.
Similarly, if I’m on an urgent call to a client who’s having a massive problem and needs my help, I’m unlikely to hang up on them just because my youngest daughter wants me to read her a book again that I’ve just read her 19 times in a row.
If I consistently put every single family requirement above every single client requirement, then I’m doing a disservice to my clients.
But the opposite is just as true. If I work 20 hours a day in order to serve my clients, but don’t interact with any member of my family for days on end, then I’m failing as a family member.
But all things being equal – clients don’t trump family.
Put on your own mask before you come to the aid of others.
Most people know by now that the profession has huge problems with mental health and substance abuse. These things affect your family (see above) and your self.
The legal profession can be extremely challenging on a number of levels. Clients can be very demanding, as can your employers. Courts can impose very tight deadlines, other parties can make your life a misery, and most of us place very high standards on ourselves along the way.
You don’t want to let people down, and neither do I. But that attitude, if taken to extremes, can mean we have a tendency to ignore our own health.
If you haven’t got yourself sufficiently sorted out, you’re not in a position to discharge your duties to your client.
If your personal life (finances, relationships, mental health, physical health – whatever) is a complete mess, then do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to get that sorted out before you continue practice.
Sometimes the “fix” might be small. Sometimes it might be complex and take a long while.
And sometimes it might mean that you need to leave the profession entirely for a time.
That’s not an easy decision to make – but it’s a necessary one.
Clients Don’t Always Come First
“The client comes first” sounds nifty, but isn’t true.
Client service is important, there’s no doubt about that.
But legal practice is more complicated than a catch phrase.