For every leader, selecting the team of insiders who will guide, fund, defend and protect is among the critical decisions. Businesses thrive or die based on the strength of the inner circle. Lawyers are essential members of the leadership team, yet many attorney-client relationships are doomed from the start by poor communication. Too much talk yet not enough talk about what matters. Too much said, too little accomplished. What’s an emerging business leader to do?
A lawyer cannot provide sound advice without knowing all the facts but clients often worry the truth will hurt their case. Some clients are simply embarrassed about what happened. The truth may hurt but silence hurts much more. We have been involved in cases where we could have saved the client time, stress and substantial legal fees, if we had known the whole story on day one instead of year three.
Dedicated lawyers earnestly desire to get the best possible result for our clients. Attorneys must understand the client’s goals and expectations and clients must understand both the likelihood and potential cost of achieving those goals. Good communication is a critical part of the formula.
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Both sides need to be clear on cost estimates and constraints. It’s not fair for a lawyer to plow ahead without the client being clear on potential costs. It’s not fair to the lawyer for a client to wait until the work is done to let the lawyer know that a bill can’t be paid or that the client expected it to be much less.
Clients who are emotionally and financially invested in a matter’s outcome sometimes hear what they want most to hear. We strongly recommend clients bring a trusted and objective friend to initial meetings with their attorney. Having a friend tell you “no, he didn’t say it would only take six months to resolve” or “I don’t think your attorney understood that the gun was loaded” is critical. An extra set of (objective) ears will help.
Expectations clearly expressed and agreed to -- preferably in writing -- are a compass if things start to feel not quite right. Complaints that “it’s taking too long” or “it’s costing too much” are hard to address in a vacuum. But if the lawyer said a project should take a week and you’re in month six with radio silence from your attorney, it’s time for a reckoning. Things left unsaid can create a black hole just roomy enough for fear, anxiety and frustration to take hold.
In the providing and receiving legal services, there are many variables and outside factors beyond everyone’s control. No one bats a thousand. But the work is deeply important to both participants, the stakes and expense are high, and the relationship between lawyer and client is critical to the success of every business venture. So start talking, listen even more and success, once defined, is much closer in reach.
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