Which Lawyers Can Be Trusted?

The longer I practice, the clearer it becomes to me that there are, in effect, two types of lawyers: ones you can trust and ones who do not know how to be trusted. In other words, can the lawyer achieve a trust-based relationship wherein he or she provides strategic advice that effectively and beneficially influences the decisions a client must make?

Trust is at the heart of every good relationship. For a lawyer, it is the central ingredient that ties them to their clients and proves they provide advice worthy of payment. But as law firms continue to merge and grow into national, regional and global-sized businesses with hundreds—if not thousands—of lawyers, it seems the traditional role of the lawyer as a trusted advisor has been eroded.

Moreover, with the advent of technology, the proliferation of legal outsource providers and cheaper alternatives to traditional legal service offerings emerging, discovering a trusted advisor is more difficult, yet important, than ever. We are all subject to being replaced by a database if data is all there is, but you cannot outsource relationships. We are infinitely far from replacing the nuances that come from discussing a difficult matter with a trusted advisor.

If lawyers are building trust-based relationships with clients, what are they doing to achieve such a respected position in the eyes of their clients? If they are not, what are they doing to prevent those relationships from developing? Becoming a trusted advisor starts with understanding that a professional’s place in the world cannot be guaranteed by their expertise alone. Many attorneys operate from the mistaken belief that the scarce resource they offer their clients is expertise. In fact, the scarce resource is the relationship and expertise is best thought of as a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition.

The following distinguishing characteristics are those that reside in an attorney who is truly a trusted advisor:

  • Provides more value than is asked for. If price is the true differentiator, then the client is not looking for a trusted advisor but rather a technician.
  • Does not simply tell the client what they want to hear, but the good, the bad and the ugly of a situation.
  • Gives advice to avoid the worst-case situation; but can also help a client understand not only what could happen but what is likely to happen.
  • Puts himself or herself in the client’s shoes by taking the time to understand the client’s business, culture, constraints and realities.
  • Acts as a business partner with well thought out advice grounded in deep expertise and best practices, and is able to put on a business hat. Too many lawyers are more concerned about their firm’s best interest than in determining what is truly in the client’s best interest.
  • Provides quick responses to requests and explains things clearly; overcoming the adage that attorneys and strategy do not mix.
  • Demonstrates a greater desire in helping than in making money by treating a valued client as a high priority.

If you would like to discuss this article, please contact me, and we can have a cup of coffee together.

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