Resolutions for 2013
I know I’m a bit late. I know you already have some, most of which you’ve probably forgotten or are at least ignoring. I know the start of the new year seems an awfully long time ago. But it is still January (just) and because my last post was about complaints, I thought it would only be fair to give you a chance to avoid them. Most should be glaringly obvious, but you’d be surprised.
1 Tell me how much it is going to cost
Not how much it might cost. For most things it really will be quite easy, I promise. If some firms can provide fixed fees for conveyancing, for example, you all can. Even my plumber can quote a fixed fee, and I have complicated taps.
I will understand if at some point during the proceedings you call me to say that something unexpected has come up and it’s going to cost a bit more. I won’t understand if I don’t hear from you for months and then you send me a much, much larger bill than I was expecting.
Like the person who expected to pay around £30k for contesting a will, only to find the final bill was over £70k, about a quarter of the final settlement. A lot of it was for duplicate work because the first lawyer on the case was so hopeless. In the end, she paid less than £20k. This really happened.
2 Respond promptly
Or even better, pro-actively let me know what’s going on. I know you are busy, and I know I’m not your only client, but this particular issue is quite important to me and I’d kind of like to know how it’s going.
If I call or email, it means I’m getting anxious and it would be really helpful if you could get back to me within a day. If I have an appointment at your office, please don’t keep me waiting for hours in reception. I know you are busy and important. Making me miss my next meeting/ lunch date/ train home will not do anything to enhance this view.
It is worth noting I will probably be far less annoying if you respond to me the first time I get in touch. Please remember I am actually paying you and not the other way around.
3 Don’t use legal jargon but try not to patronise me either
A tricky one this. Getting the balance right can be difficult, but if you treat me like an adult then we’ll be most of the way there.
The odd bit of jargon is probably ok, I mean, I don’t expect you to translate every single word. On the other hand, please remember that I am not impressed by long words and that using legalese is really only a poor substitute for thinking, as a former US Solicitor General wrote:
Legalese is jargon. All professions have it. All professions use it as a substitute for thinking, and they all use it in a way that makes them appear to be superior. Actually, they appear to be buffoons for using it. The legal profession may be the worst of all professions in using jargon. It’s not necessary to communicate that way. You’re really not communicating, and you’re not really thinking.
I think it’s fair to say that many lawyers like hearing themselves talk, which is fair enough, but please also try to listen to me. You may think you know what I want, but you don’t, really you don’t, unless you’ve paid attention.
I learned this at age 7. I didn’t listen when my teacher posed a maths question for the boys in the class. Instead, in my desperate desire to be first, and therefore the best, I worked the answer out as fast as I could and stood up to shout it out. My teacher shouted a lot and I was so embarrassed it still makes me cringe. Don’t become that 7 year old.
5 Don’t overpromise and under deliver
Amazingly, I am listening to what you say, so if you promise you can get me the French gite, a lump sum of £50k and custody of the dog I will expect nothing less. Better to manage my expectations at the outset so when I only get £500 and a picture of the dog I won’t hold it against you.
It’s nice to be eager to please, but be realistic. Even if I’m your friend, if you have never done it before don’t offer to do my conveyancing for free when you do my divorce. I wouldn’t expect my dentist to whip out my adenoid while he’s at it. I would rather pay a specialist if that’s what I need.
6 Be up front and available
Most law firms have websites, most are of very little use to consumers, unless we want to know what you look like. Try and be a bit more 'Tesco' about how you sell legal services, even if you have to do this through gritted teeth.
You could try opening on a Saturday, or even an evening. I know you’re busy and you need time to play golf, and once I’ve decided to have you as my lawyer I’ll happily try and find time during the working week to speak to you or fill out that document you need.
But it would be a lot easier for us to find each other in the first place if you were up front about your services and made yourself a bit more available, if you see what I mean.
7 Make complaints your friends
This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but it really works. Research into customer behaviour shows those who are dissatisfied but whose complaints are taken care of are more likely to remain loyal, and even become advocates, than those who left happy in the first place. Amazing huh?
8 Be nice
Because the chances are I am quite upset about the whole needing-to-get-a-lawyer thing, so the nicer you are, the easier it will be for both of us.