Take The Lead
How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.
What has gone wrong with us?
Doctors don't have consumers. They have patients. Lawyers don't have consumers. We have clients. What has gone wrong with us?
This isn't a mere rhetorical issue, but a reflection of the misguided change in the nature of our relationship with the people we serve, and how that relationship has changed from fiduciary to commercial. Consumers purchase services, and their importance to us is reduced to the fact that they pay us money in exchange for those services.
Clients, on the other hand, are people or entities who have entrusted themselves to our care, We hold their fortune and freedom in our hands, and have accepted the duty to care for it without regard to a direct cash quid pro quo. Once we accept the responsibility, their lives become our responsibility. They don't pluck legal services off the shelf as if they were walking down a supermarket aisle.
Not long ago, I start reading the pitch from legal marketers about how their services would generate "leads," potential customers who, with the right pitch, may purchase your services. Used car salesmen want leads. They have cars to sell and want anyone interested in buying a car, anyone with sufficient cash in hand, to come to their used car lot rather than the one across the street. Sellers want leads, and then it's up to them to sell.
A couple of years ago, a brave (and foolish) legal marketer sent me an advance copy of his book, asking me what I thought. There was a chapter in there about generating "leads." I told him I was offended by his characterizing clients as leads, that this was a marketing term and it fundamentally conflicted with what lawyers do. Lawyers do not seek "leads," I told him. We seek clients. I thought it was outrageous.
But the use of the word "leads" has become pervasive in the legal marketing realm, and there has been no tsunami of lawyer outrage at marketers referring to clients as "leads." It quickly dawned on me that I was the outlier, the lawyer who refused to see clients as mere consumers engaged in a commercial transaction. These were not people to be "sold," but to be represented. These were not walking wallets, but human being in need of our professional help. But that was just me.
What has gone wrong with us?
By changing our mindset toward clients into seeing leads that we hope to convert into consumers, we've diminished the nature of our relationship with our clients. We now sell them however much justice they can afford, and are willing to buy. Would you like fries with that? Supersize? We try to milk the leads for as much as we can, getting them to purchase as much of our service as they're willing to buy, whether they need it or not.
There is no aspect of our work more disingenuous than "unbundling," a concept which we market as a benefit to consumers when in fact it's just a marketing boon for lawyers. Instead of telling the client who either can't, or won't, pay for what he really needs that we cannot represent him, unbundling allows us to take whatever cash he's got in his pocket and just limit our work, reduce our responsibility, cut our losses, while snatching up the small change the consumer is willing to spend. We know that clients need holistic advice and representation, yet pretend that if we draft the complaint, they can carry the water the rest of the way. It's likely to prove disastrous, but we don't care, as long as they've emptied their pockets and can't blame us later for the mess they're in.
It's this quest for leads that has lead so many lawyers to create their own personal brand of porn, pitching consumers for the business by smiles and lies. All marketers lie, because without lies they would get no leads. Newer, better, shiner sells. If lawyers want leads, lawyers need to do the things that marketers tell us generates leads.
The business of law is no longer about our responsibility toward our client, but generating the next lead, bringing in the next consumer and getting the next fee. Once a lead is converted into a consumer and the sale is made, we move on to the next lead.
But we don't sell used cars. We are responsible for people's lives. We used to be, anyway. And people who are responsible for the lives of others don't think of them as leads or consumers.