Meaningful and Nonbillable Conversations with Clients

Posted by Douglas Sorocco at April 10, 2005 12:53 AM

One comment from LexThink has stayed with me (haunted me) the entire past week. 

The story I overheard went something like this:

After setting up my company, I sat down with my lawyer and asked him to walk me through what I should be looking for problem-wise in the future.  My lawyer’s response: “don’t worry about it, if you have any problems just give me a call.  It would cost you too much for us to sit and discuss possible future issues.”

This is just so wrong on so many levels:

  • The lawyer is patronizing the client – they would have been much more honest by just saying “Now don’t you worry your little fuzzy wuzzy little head – I will take care of all the bad boogey men for you.”
  • The laywer was not invested in the client.  The lawyer heard “talk to me” and shot out of his mouth “it will cost you”.  The concept of investing in the client didn’t even pass through their mind.

Intellectual property is a complex area of the law – I could never bill for every explanatory conversation I had with a client.  Part of my ethical duty as a lawyer is to take the time to explain the issues in a manner that any client can comprehend and use as the basis for decision making.  If the client doesn’t understand an issue – it is my problem, not the client’s.  It is my obligation to make it clear and I have to spend as much time as it takes.

I could view this time spent as wasted or I can view it as an investment in my client. 

I choose to see it as an investment.

I choose to empower my clients to act in the face of a problem – prior to calling me.

I am investing in their business, their enterprise and their knowledge.  As the Legal Marketing Blog says, you gotta Take the Time to Have Meaningful, Nonbillable Conversations with Clients.


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John Davidson Says:

April 12, 2005 03:57 PM

First, Dennis Kennedy directed me to your site.

Second, you ask, how should one respond to a client who ask, "What I should be looking for problem-wise in the future?"

If you have a client that in-experienced and foolish, one says just what was said.

To become a lawyer takes how many years of education? And you believe you can impart this widsom to someone in 20 minutes? You surely studied business associations and securities laws for a year. Do you think you can teach a business person about his duties to his directors and employees in 20 minutes. One half hour?

Stupid questions earn self-protecting replies

Douglas Sorocco Says:

April 12, 2005 07:21 PM

Interesting perspective John - but one that I think is wrong.

The client wasn't asking a "stupid question" - the client was merely asking that attorney to spend some time and explain some of the standard things to watch out for... Instead of being willing to spend some non-billable time with the client (who had just paid a significant fee to set up the business in the first place) to further develop the relationship, the attorney took the arrogant and self-interested way out.

To me - refusing to answer isn't "self protection" it is short-sighted. Spending some nonbillable time (5, 10, 90 or even 180 minutes) is the self-protection route. You have invested in the client and taught them something - they will remember your interest in their business and the time you invested in them personally.

Next time you get one of those "stupid questions" -- send them my way. I'll be happy to "waste" my time on them. =)

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