Wedded to Legal Process

Many people are not confident giving instructions to experts, particularly lawyers.

Recently, I've come to wonder about how that might impact the result you get – and how much you spend on getting it!

I've recently been involved in a case where the lawyer that I was dealing with, acting for another party, was clearly good at legal process, but apparently inexperienced in commercial reality. I do not know what instructions his client gave him, but judging from his reaction, my guess would be something like –

"We want you to nail these people to the wall…"

"These people have been giving us a hard time, we want you to crucify them…"

"Do everything you need to do to make life hell for these people…"

you get the picture!

Although that is my guess based upon the lawyer's behaviour, realistically, the client probably just said something like –

"We have a problem. These people have not paid and say they can't pay. What can we do?"

Now, if you look at the commercial arena, when business takes steps to deal with a non-payment situation they do so with the end goal in mind – We want to be paid. The best chance of that is if they remain in business. What can we do to help to ensure that happens?

Examples that I have seen, particularly where the business with cash flow difficulties is part of a supply chain, is that future orders will be secured to the company in difficulty so that they can then seek support from their banks. If the situation is chronic, a reciever/manager might be appointed to help put in better systems to make sure cash flow is less of a problem in the future.

Its economics. You don't destroy a business for the sake of it.

So, back to our agressive lawyer wedded to legal process.

In the commercial arena, the first thing you do is talk neutrally to find out what can be done.

Did this lawyer attempt to have a conversation with the debtor? – No

Did this lawyer recommend to his client to speak with the debtor as a first step? – No

What did he do? File and serve legal proceedings out of the blue. – How to aggravate a situation 101!

Where does that take things?

Well, fortunately the recipient of the legal proceedings was level headed enough not to panic. They were stunned and upset and did have an emotional (read defensive) reaction to the proceedings, but they were still prepared to try and talk it through. So they rang the lawyer directly.

Was the lawyer prepared to discuss the matter? Remember, this is a lawyer who is wedded to legal process. – No. What kind of answer did they get? Picture a conversation like this –

Lawyer – "You will have to get your own legal advice."

Defendant – "But what does your client want in order to resolve this?"

Lawyer – "Payment in full, immediately."

Defendant – "We have already established that that is not possible right now. We'd like to discuss other options that may be acceptable to your client. It would be helpful to know what they might be prepared to agree to."

Lawyer – "Put it in writing and I'll get instructions."

Not at all obstructionist or arrogant.

Every item of written correspondence received from that lawyer was agressive and arrogant and full of legal jargon. The debtor got tired of being stonewalled and wrote an open letter directly to the directors of the company that the debtor owed money to. Suddenly, things started to shift. This was after we'd had a conversation and agreed to focus on the result, and not react to the lawyer's antagonistic correspondence. 

I am pleased to say that the matter was resolved.

Aside:  With the benefit of working inhouse for the last few years I realise that I used to write legal letters in an equally arrogant, agressive and legalistic way. Despite the push within the profession to use "plain English drafting" it seems that training within legal firms does not take into consideration that 13 years is the average age of written comprehension in adults, and that arrogance is not only unnecessary, but plain rude! 

Take home lessons –

  • lawyers are not infallible
  • not all lawyers have the same experience
  • be clear when giving instructions as to what result you want to achieve
  • if the advice you receive does not show you how that result will be achieve, question it!
  • a lawyer who is very good at legal process is the person you want when that is the last option open to you
  • if you want information about the possibilities open to you, be clear that you want to consider advice (and the impact of any recommended actions) before any action is taken
  • communication is the key, sometimes a simple conversation is all that is required to resolve a problem

 To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others. ~ Anthony Robbins 

Thank you for listening. I was very tempted to provide feedback to this lawyer so that he might have a chance of serving his clients better in the future and contributing less to the poor reputation of the legal profession. Possibly those of you who are involved in coaching might have some constructive ideas on this. Please let me know!

Instead, I've shared it with you in the hope that this might help you to be clear in the instructions that you provide to your lawyer, and whether you accept their recommendations on face value, or way up the risk-benefit of the course of action they recommend before spending a whole lot of money unecessarily on legal fees.

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