In my view paramedics are heroes, rushing into awful circumstances, often at great risk to themselves, to save lives. It’s what they do.
But you’re not a paramedic, you’re a lawyer! So why do so many lawyers feel the compelled to rush in to save a client, often at great risk to themselves.
When It Goes Bad
Here is a scenario I see all too often. A prospective client (they?re not a client yet) meets with the lawyer for an initial consultation to discuss their issue. Typically, the prospects issue has evolved to a point where there is now some urgency. The lawyer, against all better judgement, agrees to engage with the client and act on their behalf. Given the urgency of the matter, the lawyer doesn?t have time to follow the usual protocols such as having cost agreements signed or arranging for money to be deposited into trust for fees, perhaps not even for immediate disbursements. The reasoning, ?we?ll get all of that sorted, but we urgently need to initiate this action??
It?s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The client gets their problem solved, they?re happy, but the lawyer is left holding the can, chasing outstanding bills, struggling with cash flow, and wondering why and at what point they made the clients? problem theirs.
It doesn?t have to be like this. Let?s not forget, you run a legal services business, with the emphasis on business.
3 Things To Consider
If this type of scenario plays out all too often in your legal practice here are three things for you to consider to make sure it doesn?t happen again.
1. How are you positioning yourself?
Lawyers possess specialist skills and knowledge that only come with years of study and experience. That makes you the expert. A prospective client seeks you out because they don?t possess those skills and experiences. They’re looking for your leadership. It is up to you to lead the process. Sure, you?re engaged to achieve a particular outcome, and yes sometimes the client instructions and your advice don’t align, but never lose control of the process.
Central to that process is that both you and the client agree to enter into a commercial agreement. You agree to apply your expertise to their circumstances, and in return they agree to compensate you for your services. If only one of you is holding up their end of the bargain at the start of the matter I guarantee you will wrestle with this client until the conclusion of the matter. Perhaps even beyond.
??2. What does your engagement process look like?
When does the client engagement actually begin? The initial consultation is an opportunity for the client to outline their issue and for you to determine whether you are a fit for each other. During this consult you should be assessing whether you are best positioned to deal with their matter, whether they fit your ideal client profile, the size of the matter and whether you have the resources to handle it, and so on. It?s up to you to determine whether you agree to act for them and on what basis.
Communication with the client during the engagement process is critical.
3. Do you follow your own systems?
Ultimately, a business maximises its? profits by the consistent application of its systems. So, you have a client selection and on-boarding process (if you don?t, you need one). This will detail a sequence of events, or triggers, that need to occur before you take the next step. For example, does the client engagement, or activity on the matter, commence only after the receipt of monies into your trust account? If that?s the system the ball is in your clients? court. If they don?t take the action necessary for them to save themselves, why should you?
If the client balks at the commencement of an engagement that?s a clear signal that you will be playing catch up for the entire engagement.
When It Goes Well
When you get these elements right, your clients will respect you as the expert, they value the service you provide them, they pay you when requested to do so, you enjoy working with them, and importantly they take ownership for their own situation.
Surely all of that gives the client the best chance for a successful outcome. What?s not to like about that?
So the next time you?re tempted to rush in to a client engagement, against your better judgement, ask yourself ?Am I being the paramedic, or the lawyer?
Make a note of the changes you need in your engagement process and communicate them to your team, or if you don’t have a team a trusted accountability partner.