The National Law Journal says this Friday is “Love Your Lawyer Day.”
The ABA Law Practice Division and a group called the American Lawyers Public Image Association, founded and promoted by a Florida lawyer named Nader Anise, plan to celebrate “Love Your Lawyer Day” this Friday.
Nader Anise founded it? Seems legit. Apparently, this is now supposed to serve as a retort to lawyer jokes, because they make lawyers sad.
Here’s a joke. What do mold, ooze, pond scum and lawyers have in common?
Before you answer, “They’re all slime,” humorist Malcolm Kushner implores you to reconsider.
A better answer would be “They all float to the top,” Kushner writes in his new book, “Comebacks for Lawyer Jokes,” which he self-published last month. A California-barred lawyer himself, Kushner aims to disrupt that nasty joke-teller and save a sensitive lawyer’s self-esteem and reputation.
The attempt to thwart negativity against the legal profession has gathered momentum this fall along with the book. Others in the industry have decided to fight the stigma: None other than the American Bar Association picked up the banner last month.
Cool, the ABA is going to lead the charge against lawyer jokes. That will fix everything. Oh wait, it won’t. It won’t solve anything because jokes that hurt lawyers’ feelings have nothing to do with why people hate lawyers. And they do.
Based upon my highly scientific longitudinal empirical study, spanning 30+ years, Ima help out. There are three primary reasons people hate lawyers
- Lawyers suck.
Nobody goes to a lawyer because they’re having a good day. For the most part, what we do sucks money out of people they would prefer not to spend, say for a will or a contract. We’re dead money at best. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “boy, I would love to pay money to a criminal defense lawyer today.” Lawyers exist to clean up the misery society has created.
The closest we come to being unsucky is the contingent fee, where a client doesn’t have to put up loot, provided the lawyer doesn’t send him packing because his brain damaged baby doesn’t have adequate liability. But for the reasons below, even the contingent fee lawyer is hated.
Is there a solution that will make people want to wake up in the morning and say, “yippee, I get to see a lawyer today!” Probably not, but that’s the nature of the profession. The best we can hope for is to serve our clients zealously, so while they may not be thrilled at the prospect of our existence, they appreciate that we’re there for when misery is spilled all over the floor.
That means we grasp that we’re there for clients, not the other way around. But that’s the opposite of everything we’re told these days. At most, we pay lip service to it, but we know, and they know, it’s nonsense.
2. Overpromise and underdeliver.
ABC. Always be closing. Score the case. Tell the client how much you love them, how you care so deeply about them. Clients love that, I’m told. Too many lawyers will say anything, promise the earth and moon, to convince a client to give them their case. Clients ask questions, and lawyers give answers under the dashboard lights.
Then, well, things don’t quite happen that way. The confidence at the beginning gives way to doubts and excuses. The guarantees are over and the tacit caveats come out. The client starts muttering, “but you said…” and the lawyer looks at him with the disdain of the guy who already has the check deposited in the bank.
Does the lawyer have a legitimate excuse? Has the lawyer done a competent, even excellent, job? Maybe. He may be a superb lawyer. But still he fails to deliver on the promises he made up front, or in the way it was supposed to happen, and so the outcome disappoints. It may be a pretty good outcome, but if its short of the pitch to get the business, expectations are blown and the client is disappointed.
Don’t blame the client for having listened to you. You didn’t graduate from Faber Law School.
3. Take the call. Return the call. Now.
If there is one complaint that stands alone in its pervasiveness, it’s that lawyers won’t take a client’s call or return the call. I listened to a bit of a podcast of a baby lawyer yesterday where he explained how he always “tries” to return phone calls the same day. The same day? Are you kidding me? You are too kind.
This is really a multi-part complaint. Put aside the clients who call every day to ask “what’s happening on my case.” Part of your job as lawyer is to manage expectations and control clients, and part of that is to tell them that you aren’t working on their case every day, that there isn’t, and won’t be, something new every day, and that if you had to answer a phone call like that from every client, no work would ever get done and so the answer would be “nothing because I’m wasting my time on the phone with you.” It’s an easy problem to fix.
But what about the person who isn’t a generic pain in the ass, but calls because, well, he never hears squat from you? More of the multi-part: why doesn’t he hear from you? If there is something happening on a case, reach out and tell him. Tell him before he knows to ask. You say you value his business, so show it. Pick up the frigging phone and call.
This is a client’s life. He’s entitled to know what you’re doing with it. Or not doing. And once the client feels assured that you will reach out to him the minute you have any information, he won’t feel the need to call because he knows you will. See how that works?
But then, you tell a client you’re going to have a meeting about his case next Tuesday. From 3:37 a.m. forward, he’s going to be sitting by his phone. By 8:43 p.m., he’s going to be really pissed that his phone hasn’t rung. Why not. He’s sitting on pins and needles, dying with every second that phone sits silently. You created the expectation. Deal with it. Call him. Even if to say nothing happened, call him. Don’t let him die a thousand deaths waiting for you.
Even if the client is on a contingent fee, you are holding his future in your hands. Are you as important as that baby lawyer who tries to call back within 24 hours? Are you really that important?
In a recent discussion, I noted that the more highly regarded a lawyer is, the easier he is to get on the phone. Nobody lawyers are hard to reach. Important lawyers are easy. Some even answer their own phones, because they have no reason to hide from anyone and, well, they have hands.
I love lawyer jokes. I love any joke that’s funny. I think we all need to have a far, far better sense of humor about ourselves and others. But the jokes neither make nor break the problem with people hating lawyers. And if you think you’re going to stop people from hating lawyers by listening to a self-serving sleazebag like Nader Anise, just hit the pink button on the sidebar because this post wasn’t for you.