“How to provide value” is the mantra of most marketing consultants, and for good reason. We all want value in the products or services we buy. But we’ve all experienced products or services which promised “value”, and didn’t deliver. I was thinking about how this relates to the services my industry (divorce and family law) provides, and the “value” we deliver to our clients. Here are a few thoughts.
Understanding the Client, Not Just the Law
First of all, every good, experienced family lawyer should be knowledgeable about the law, the courts, negotiation skills, appropriate technology and be able to efficiently deliver the technical services. I assume all clients expect these things.
But is this all the “value” we can provide? What about things like: understanding the client’s real goals; helping clients avoid certain pitfalls of the legal system which can result from making decisions based on emotion; not letting ourselves (as attorneys) get pulled into the emotion of a situation and engage in battle with the opposing attorney based on our own triggers, or intentionally engaging the higher self of the opposing lawyer and client, so that our client can obtain a quicker, less expensive, desirable result?
Here’s how this plays out in my daily work world. My client has an opportunity to resolve some financial issues in her favor, but her husband is not giving her all she wants. He’s being unreasonable and wants to tell him where to shove his offer.
But legally, she has no chance of getting what she wants. Do I simply allow her to tell him to shove it? Do I tell her lawyer that he should shove it? What is the result for my client if she or I do that? The husband could very likely retreat back to a worse offer based on the law, and she has a worse result.
This is a VERY common scenario in one form or another–and a real test of the value of the attorney’s ability to focus on providing, “value” to the client. And in my experience, there are three main categories of lawyers in this regard.
1) The Egotistical Lawyer
First, there are lawyers who literally could care less about providing this sort of value—their ego, or desire to make money, is more important than a consideration like this. It pains me to even say this, but I have seen it too many times during my career. The good news is that, despite the low reputation of lawyers (and especially divorce lawyers), I can say from being in the trenches for 40 years that this is a very small percentage of lawyers.
2) The Negligent Lawyer
The second category would be what could best be described as negligent, or unconscious, lawyers as to this issue of value. These are not bad people, but for any number of reasons, they aren’t “conscious” to what is really important to this client, and they tend to perform their work in a formulaic manner. This can feel safe, simple, and familiar so that it’s attractive to many lawyers.
For example, some lawyers will file a petition for divorce, obtain a temporary restraining order where possible, and have the other spouse served by surprise with the Petition for Divorce. This is unnecessary in 95% of divorces, but the attorney’s view is that this protects him or her if the opposing party takes some unilateral action which would have been in violation of a TRO (or Standing Order in most urban counties in Texas).
First of all, that process has negligible value in almost every case, but the issue of setting a negative tone for the divorce, pissing off the other spouse, creating distrust and fear—these are outweighed by the lawyer’s desire to protect themselves—or to get a “badass” reputation for marketing purposes.
Again, most of these are not intending to cause a problem, but are not being “conscious” in making decisions like these. And even though there may be no malevolent intent, the result for this attorney’s client can be the same as the client of the attorney who is consciously trying to create conflict—distrust, fear, and anger, which lead to a more contentious, and emotionally and financially damaging, divorce.
3) The Conscious Lawyer
The third category could simply be described as “conscious” lawyers—those who listen, think, and take deliberate, well-thought-out actions based on the client’s actual goals (which the lawyer has taken the time to listen to and become extremely clear on). To me, this is where real “value” can be provided to clients and is what clients should look for in a good family lawyer–or family law firm.
Thankfully, the first category of intentionally “bad” lawyers is very small (but they give the rest of us a bad reputation, which triggers me…!). The second category, though, is a much larger group of family law practitioners (although I’ve seen a decrease in both the first and second categories over my career).
And although I see the third category as much smaller than the second, I’ve seen it grow over the years, and am hopeful the practice continues to evolve in that direction. Things like mediation and Collaborative Divorce have had a big impact, in my opinion, by providing a real paradigm shift from the old days of a “wild west” sort of divorce practice which was prevalent in my early practice years. It’s clear to me that alternate dispute resolution processes—even when not used directly—have had an impact on how lawyers see their jobs and encouraged them to focus more on the type of “value” that I’m addressing here.
Let’s hope it continues to go that way for the future of families, children and the legal profession—the impact of that could literally change our communities and ultimately the world as ex-spouses have good relationships and children grow up in less toxic environments and have healthy families of their own. Cheers to that!