Client care can sometimes be a delicate balance of compassionate reinforcement and “tough love” advice.
But how do you decide when you should encourage your client in their proposed course, and when you should be advising caution?
Bad Choice #1 – Always Saying Yes
Although saying yes to things all the time is a fairly poor choice for you personally, it’s also a pretty bad way of advising your client.
This particularly seems to come up in litigation, where unscrupulous lawyers like to play to the crowd and encourage their prospective clients into litigation. They tell war stories as if every matter has a happy ending and brings affordable justice for all with no potential to go wrong.
It’s the pinnacle of self-interest, really.
After all – if they sue someone, you might get the work, right? And it’s pretty easy to catch someone who’s angry and stroke their ego a bit until they boil over and say “GO AND SUE THEM – RIGHT NOW”.
But the role of trusted advisor extends not only to your existing clients, but also to those who might be your clients in the future.
It’s just plain dumb to encourage anyone to jump into a hornet’s nest of pain without them being pretty comfortable with how it’s likely to go.
How do you think that’s going to go in the long run?
Bad Choice #2 – Always Saying No
On the flip side of the lawyer who always eggs their client on is the lawyer who can talk a client out of anything, ever.
These lawyers have a tendency to focus on everything that could go wrong, and consider themselves duty-bound to explain 1000 different variations of woe to their potential clients before they even write a letter.
The danger here is that every client becomes so disillusioned with the legal system that matters which have merit don’t proceed – simply because the lawyer gives such a negative presentation of the situation and the risks.
Of course the risks are important, but much like the first approach, the second also generally fails to give a considered view of the system and the options.
The Right Choice – A Coin with Two Sides
As is often the case, going “full positive” or “full negative” are terrible ideas.
A combination of the two is usually called for.
On the one hand, I rarely see any problem encouraging clients to explore their legal options. This might be mildly gung-ho but at the end of the day it’s the only way your client’s going to get good advice about their choices.
I also have no problem with explaining risk. A failure to explain risk will not only get you in ethical trouble, but will probably cause damage to your client relationship.
Knowing where the balance should be found normally involves knowing your client. Are they inclined towards risk? Are they a sophisticated consumer of legal services? What kinds of questions or concerns have they had in the past?
Perhaps it might go something like this:
I appreciate you want to go down path X and why. As you’ll appreciate, path X might result in A, B or C happening. A is fairly likely, but in my view B and C are a little remote. Are you comfortable with that? The up side is that if path X works as you might hope, then you might get Y or Z.
Risk and reward.
Remember What your Job Is
It’s not your job to make the decision for your client.
It’s not your job to push your client down a certain path.
It’s your job to advise your client and help them make the best decision they can.
Have you seen “gung ho” lawyer or “risk averse” lawyer in action? How’d it work out? Let me know in the comments!