When the word “lawyer” or “attorney” is mentioned, most business people either make a joke about how lawyers belong in hell, or complain about how their attorney recently overcharged them. As the head of operations for several companies, I had to deal with attorneys almost every day. I was also part of a law firm at one point in my career, so I have developed a very intimate and unique perspective of the inner workings of the legal industry.
So why am I writing this open letter to lawyers? Like many others, I have a love and hate relationship with attorneys. I don’t expect I can change much, since many bad practices become engrained during law school. But, us business people will always need lawyers, so I have a vested interest in helping attorneys understand our perspective.
95% of attorneys are guilty of almost every item on this list. My intent is to show you what you can do better. Let’s get started:
- We pay you for legal, not business, advice. Even if you have an MBA, you are not qualified to council us on business strategy. Unless you had extensive business experience before you went to law school, you are not capable of thinking like a businessperson. Your value is in figuring out how we CAN do what we want to do within the confines of the law. You should act like the safety net of a tightrope walker.
- Like doctors, you are a specialist and are not good at everything. If you don’t know how to approach a certain problem, please look for guidance from another attorney. The Socratic oath should be part of your Bar admittance.
- Hourly billing promotes YOUR inefficiency. Billing 15 minutes to listen to the voicemail we left you is ridiculous! At least do a mix of some per-project and some hourly billing. I personally refuse to work with any attorney who wants to do straight hourly billing. The internal structure and compensation practices of your law firm are not our problem.
- Be human. An obsession with billing every minute of your life has turned some of you into very unpleasant and fake people. Attaching “Esq” to your name should not turn you into a pompous a-hole. The biggest part of business development is building a relationship. We are not stupid, we know that lunch we just had with you will show up on our bill. Set yourself apart by genuinely getting interested in our businesses and what we are about. You just may build a business relationship with some longevity in it.
- Stop posturing. Through the years I have learned one thing about lawyers of both genders – the fancier the suit, the less experienced attorney and the bigger the BSer behind it. I know a worthless attorney who owns over 70 suits and has an ego the size to match. What a joke! Blowing a large amount of money on school, a wardrobe, and a car does not give you credibility. It may be OK in court, but in the business world, playing a poser does not work. Many of you are extremely smart. Skip the BS and titles and let your work shine!
- Give before you take! I realize your industry is full of rules and that you are scared of them, but grow a pair and genuinely share your expertise with the community. You will be surprised at how many new clients you will obtain this way. If you brag about your connections, make a connection or two as a sign of goodwill.
So dear attorneys, I don’t hate you. You are very valuable guns in my arsenal. I just want the experience of dealing with you to be less like the one I have with proctologists and more like the one I have with fellow business people.
1/14/10 Update: Scott Edward Walker from Walker Corporate Law Group posted a great article on Venture Hacks with his take on the issue – “Top 10 reasons why entrepreneurs hate lawyers“. Admission of a problem is the first step to curing it!
Note re. image credit: would love to track down who is the author of it to provide proper credit.