The Need for "Law Care" Reform

Lawyers don’t enjoy the greatest image. For business clients, they’re a necessary evil—or maybe just evil. Lawyers complicate things, they mystify things, they impede deals. You ask them what time it is, they tell you how to build a watch.

And they charge a fortune for spinning wheels and shuffling papers. What, a hundred bucks to say good morning?

The result: business folks are reluctant to call their lawyers until they get into real trouble. And that’s the most expensive kind of lawyering there is. So the cycle continues, and so do the caustic lawyer jokes.

Okay, in some ways, lawyers have brought it on themselves. And sometimes, people simply (we’d say mistakenly) lump business lawyers together with ambulance chasers and criminal defense lawyers.

Does Your Business Lawyer Measure Up?

If this is the system you’re used to, then it’s broken. But you—the business client—have the power to diagnose what’s broken, and drive the fix. Let’s call it “law care reform.” Here are the top 5 things a business lawyer should do for you:

  1. Be transparent. This is about setting and managing your expectations in three ways:
    • What’s the job? At the outset of the relationship—in the engagement letter—the lawyer should specify a scope of work. And if the scope changes, confirm the changed scope in writing.
    • How much will it cost? If you’re in business, you want budget predictability, if not certainty. This means having flexible (or creative) billing options, which may include a flat fee or maximum price arrangement. This can be hard to do, because some business engagements—especially litigation—defy precise pricing. But even then, to avoid sticker shock down the road, the lawyer should give you a best case-worst case range, or collaborate with you to devise a phase-by-phase billing structure.
    • What did you get for the money? Your lawyer’s bills should contain detailed, itemized time entries so that you know exactly what was done and when. “Client phone call” tells you nothing. “Client phone call to discuss open lease issues, options, recommended solutions, and next steps” explains things, refreshes your memory.   
  2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  This means—first and foremost—calling you (or emailing you) back. Being accessible, via phone, email, or text.  Keeping you updated, letting you know what’s going on, even if there’s nothing new to report. Giving you info proactively, without you having to chase it. 
  3. Keep UP.  Business deals move fast, and your time is money. Your lawyer should think like a business person, not like a dude in a powdered wig. This means moving at business speed, and in real time—not snail mail time. Emails, even texts, beat phone tag, and everything beats regular mail.
  4. Be your hub. Your business lawyer should understand your big picture and all the moving parts, not just isolated transactions. Be your “go to” teammate. The person with a ready pool of resources to solve your problem. 
  5. Add value. Your lawyer should move the ball for you and be an asset to your business, not a dollar drain. How?
    • De-mystify and simplify things. Break down complexity in to digestible bites. Communicate in conversational English. Get to the heart of it, give you the spitballs, and move on. 
    •  Figure out how to do what you want to do, not tell you what you can’t do.
    • Advise you: give you options, give an opinion, take a stand. That’s what you’re paying for.
    • Give you useful, actionable information. Like this blog.
    • If your business lawyer doesn’t measure up, you’re a business person. You know what to do.