Believe it or not, lawyers of my generation were trained to be very careful never to tell a client what we thought he, she or it should do in any given situation. We should lay out the options, but insist that the decision as to what do was “a matter for you”. It was really drilled into us: set out the options (ideally in a 5-page letter for which you could charge, say, £1,000) but never tell them what you think they should do. I’m fairly confident that this still goes on to this day.
What a spectacularly bad approach to supporting a business (or any type of client). It comes from the same old-fashioned law firm tradition as “being highly aggressive in legal correspondence works well” and “never apologise nor admit a mistake”.
I wince as I recall how many times, as a junior lawyer, I sat firmly on many fences. It was never questioned within the big law firms I worked for because it was a key principal of “how things are done” and I don’t remember any clients complaining either. I think a lot of clients feel they have to put up with it, because that’s simply how lawyers advise.
After escaping from the Big Law Firm Bubble into the real world, I enjoyed having daily contact with HR managers whose most frequent question tended to be “So are we safe to sack them?” and of course it became abundantly clear to me that avoiding that quite reasonable question was just simply ridiculous.
I can still vividly remember the point at which I decided ‘to boldly go’ where I had never been before, and just say to a client “If I were you, I’d do this…” The first few times I will admit that it was like jumping off the top board at the local swimming baths. Along with the rush of adrenaline, I could almost hear the tuts of disapproval from all those Big Law Firm lawyers who had trained me; but luckily I had, by then, a great boss who delighted in giving robust, off-the-cuff advice with flair and who was clearly adored for it by clients.
Nowadays, I consider it a basic requirement of good advice and support to a client that I should offer my clear view or ‘steer’ on which course of action I feel is best, and also why I feel that (which is important too). Naturally, this is only after having first discovered what my client’s own aims and priorities are. Other lawyers who are not used to working with me sometimes venture that I give “very bold” advice, but I’m not sure that I do anything so exciting. I feel that I just give my clients what they have a perfect right to expect – namely just decent advice.
What’s the difference between a leech and a lawyer?
A leech drops off you once you’re dead.
Director, Menzies Law