Hands up if you’ve relied on Google to find you an answer to a legal question.
Yeah – me too.
Now leave your hand up (unless you’re on public transport – in which case put it down before people think you’re too strange) if you’ve had a client who has come to you with all the answers to their own legal problems, carefully located on Google.
Yep – me again.
And it’s particularly infuriating. How dare they think they know how to do legal research properly? How could they think that the subtleties, nuance and technicalities of their legal issues could possibly be solved through a simple Google search? After all, we spent $25k, $50k or $100k (depending on where you are) on our qualifications – their foolhardy endeavours with the internet couldn’t possibly be useful.
But Wait – Don’t We do it Too?
Woah there. When you get sick, ever searched online for a “cure”? What about financial advice – done any searches seeking some of that? Ever looked for a good book, how to fix your car, how to write, how to make money, how to create a website? Professional services exist for all these things, and yet we go online for the answers at first instance, and in doing so start to gather knowledge about the topic.
The reality is that information is now available, and it’s available everywhere. Most of the legal principles that we know and love/hate are readily available for exploration and consideration by our very own clients.
And therein lies the danger.
A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing
It’s pretty infuriating, isn’t it?
We, the experts, are assaulted by a client who has “done some research” about their legal issues, and approach us with a raft of conclusions, thoughts, questions and solutions that they would like to present for your conclusion.
In the process, of course, what we gradually realise is that the cost we thought we could provide the service in question for needs to double as a consequence of the client who has “done some research”. The temptation to say “shut up and let me do the legal work” is, of course, pretty high – but generally speaking we don’t do that for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s because we’ll get fired for speaking to a client that way (hot tip – always let the insults be given by people who pay the wages, not people who receive them). Next it’s because most of us, by and large, aren’t really rude.
However… What’s Our Job?
Confronted with this assault of additional complexities to what was already a complex job, we need to step back from our indignation for a moment and ask ourselves this: what is our job as a lawyer?
Often we tell ourselves that our job is to provide legal services. And that is true.
But perhaps that’s not all your client needs. Perhaps your client needs to be heard. Perhaps your client needs to have their opinions considered and dealt with. Perhaps your client needs the confidence of knowing that you have considered their issue fully (fully in their sense, not just yours).
That being the case, maybe it’s time to put aside our arrogance and our pompous attitude towards knowing “what’s best” for our client, and start considering how we can best serve their needs.
After all – don’t our client’s legal needs also include a consideration of the issues that they want?
Of course we have a duty to deal with our clients with frankness and candour. Sometimes that means we need to tell them that an idea they have, a legal concept they are latched on to, is a bad idea or is un-runnable.
But that does NOT mean we need to be dismissive, arrogant, or inconsiderate when it comes to our client’s needs.
Hear them out. Listen to their story.
You never know – you might just learn something.