Listen Up Clients: One Law Firm’s Approach

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 would never be able to 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 frustratedcomputerlove? 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 seemingly include dealing with a lot of stressed out clients who are going to be upset when you make a mistake and may want to talk to you at odd times.

This blog post is not intended 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 of the 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 does strike me as odd.

You are going through a tough divorce. You think you need someone who is really in your corner. What are the chances this firm is going to 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, is going to be your choice?

There is a really 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 clearly and 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, you 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 at any time! 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 the question of whether this message is appropriate and asks readers to participate in a poll. The readers overwhelming think that this message is completely 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 long history of doing so, you tend to 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. It follows that 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.

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