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Even if it’s been a few years since you’ve paged through a copy of Robert Southey’s children’s tale of Goldilocks & the Three Bears you probably recall the little girl Goldilocks who stumbles through the forest into the home of three bears. Goldilocks proceeds to try the 3 bowls of porridge, the 3 chairs, and the 3 beds, eventually settling on the one that was JUST RIGHT!
Two of my current active cases and the opposing lawyers in those cases has got me thinking about what’s “Just Right” when balancing the speed/thoroughness continuum in providing legal services. On the one hand there’s the case where we’ve been waiting 5 months to get a couple of lien releases so my client can proceed with a mortgage refinance. Five months ago the opposing lawyer said she’d agree to a compromise payment in return for the lien releases…5 months later NOTHING (Granted, the lawyer can surely change her mind but she’s consistently said that she’ll take the payoff in exchange for the release of liens & yet we wait). At the other extreme is a case that should be a ho-hum negotiated dissolution of marriage. Meaning, there’s general agreement about child custody arrangements and property settlement but settlement documents still must be prepared and perfected which typically take a couple months between 2-3 drafts, letters back-and-forth, plus a client meeting or two. Yet in this case the lawyer shoots off harried & sloppy letters with grammatical errors and issues left unaddressed. And even more annoyingly he includes these false deadlines at end of his letters with threats like “if you don’t respond by Friday then we’re going after you’re client’s retirement accounts.” So there’s too fast/sloppy and there’s the glacially slow (or never).
How ’bout JUST RIGHT?
Thoroughness & Attention to Detail Should be Your Calling Card (Trumps Speed). As a non-criminal attorney 2 keys for me as a lawyer are making sure every word is correct and every issue is covered. Simple, but not always easy when you’re dealing with thousands of words. Completing work in a timely fashion isn’t something to be ignored but personally with the exception of real estate transactions, deadlines are mostly self-imposed or surely court deadlines when hearings/trials approach are critical but our court system doesn’t move too fast now does it. And if you’re hourly billing more thoroughness equals more money too!
It’s the Communication, Stupid! I attended a great seminar yesterday put on by the ISBA entitled Presenting with Excellence put on by Steve Hughes of Hit Your Stride. Steve gave some great hints about learning styles, physical learning environments, PowerPoint, and verbal/non-verbal delivery. Of course the 1 word seminar title: COMMUNICATION. It was kind of funny speaking to the guy sitting next to me as we hearkened on about how sooooo many issues from marriage to politics to darn near all that we do professionally as lawyers in some way relates back to simple communication. And while each lawyer and client has their own personal expectations that vary greatly across the public spectrum that can’t all be known, the Goldilocks Lawyer focuses on consistent GREAT COMMUNICATION.
Your Credibility & Reputation Depend on It. Because what would you think about the 2 lawyers mentioned above if you’re the opposing lawyer/client or if you’re their client? Personally I abhor the lawyer who is sloppy and falsely threatening…he’s creating more work due to sloppiness and angering everyone involved. Being a slow & thorough lawyer isn’t a bad thing, that’s just a communication problem. Just tell everyone what’s going on & why. I was on a flight a couple years ago that was delayed for a long time and eventually we were put on a whole other plane due to a mechanical problem. Yet the passengers were constantly communicated to, various snacks were constantly provided, and the airline was honest and really do you want to get out quickly on a damaged aircraft? Conversely, just last week my commuter train actually failed to stop at my stop (although it was scheduled to stop)…blew right by it. It stopped at the next stop, zero communication…good luck getting home to you folks. Who took the credibility/reputation hit?
Are you a Goldilocks lawyer for your clients? That’s really what we’re talking about…lawyering ain’t math, there are many right answers and different people like different “flavors.” But I’d suggest great thoroughness and great communication will help make you Just Right!