Above the Law provides an interesting link from a South Carolina family law firm that I can bet you is experiencing a real spike in web traffic. The firm lays down the law to its clients on its website, warning them to wait patiently for return calls (they are busy), not to call on weekends, stop by unannounced, or even to expect that they won’t make mistakes.
I have never handled a domestic case in my life. I couldn’t. I could never bear the bitter pettiness that comes with domestic battles. I deal well with people who are suffering from an injury – including emotional injuries that stem from a physical injury or a death. Pain, physical limitation, loss of someone you love? I can get my mind around that. Your bitterness because your husband cheated on you? Day in and day out, that has to be a tough road to hoe. But there was a sign-up sheet out for family law lawyers and these folks signed up. The job description would include dealing with a lot of stressed-out clients who will be upset when you make a mistake and may want to talk to you at odd times.
I do not intend this blog post to criticize this firm. Any law firm can set any policies for client expectations that they want. I am more interested in the answer to this question: would you ever hire this firm? I have no problem with their policy of not working on the weekends or with some other boundaries they set (except for their mistakes policy, which I will get to in a minute). But the brazen tone and tenor with which they announce these policies strikes me as odd.
You are going through a tough divorce. You think you need someone is really in your corner. What are the chances this firm will go the extra mile for you compared to Firm B? Maybe they would. They might be spectacular lawyers who fight to the end for their clients. But given the limited amount of evidence you have when looking for a lawyer on the Internet, what are the chances this firm, given this introduction, will be your choice?
There is a nice state-of-the-art car wash near my house that I would love to use. But when you pull up, the first thing you see is a huge laundry list – in all caps – of my obligations to them, followed by a clear statement that they have no responsibilities towards me, even if one if its employees comes up and socks me in the face. I’m fine with the terms, actually. And it might be a great car wash and the car wash owners may be very reasonable people who just feel compelled to lay out the rules unambiguously. But I just can’t stand that they are shouting at me before my car touches an ounce of soap. Sadly, my car stays dirty.
I have the biggest problem with how you have to virtually indemnify them for legal malpractice when you hire this firm:
Do not think we are perfect. We make mistakes. We are competent attorneys and paralegals, but we make mistakes. We will correct a mistake if we find it or if you point it out. Please do not yell at us, accuse us of not doing our job, or insult us over a mistake.
These announcements preempt any complaint about anything. In other words, your clients better not accuse us of not doing our job even when we are not doing our job. What a great “get out of jail free” card you can play! Clients care about their cases. When a lawyer makes a mistake, a little beatdown medicine is coming. Instead of preempting the complaint with “mistakes happen”, why not just apologize, fix it if possible, and do a better job, if you make a mistake.
Above the Law debates whether this message is appropriate and asks readers to take part in a poll. The readers overwhelmingly think this message is acceptable. This leads me to believe that most Above the Law readers are associates who don’t have their own clients. Because I don’t think a poll of partners who are successfully serving the needs of their own clients would agree. I’m not saying this derisively. I just think when you have direct responsibility for keeping clients happy and have a lengthy history of doing so, you look at these issues through a different lens.
Our law firm is dealing with clients who are seriously injured or have lost someone they love. These people are going to occasionally become unhinged. That might require a phone call on a weekend now and again to talk someone off the ledge or give them an answer to a question that is causing them stress. I’m not excited to walk away from my wife and three kids to take that call. But it is what I signed up for.