Pam Woldow just pulled back the curtain on the 800 lb. gorilla in most lawyer-client relationships–money. Here’s the back story from a program Pam led for a law firm and one of its main clients:
Then the conversation turned to budgeting, and the tenor turned tense. One partner, speaking with a hint of self-righteousness in his voice, said, “our priority is to provide the finest possible legal service. We find it distasteful to talk about grubby money matters with clients. We want to do the legal work to the best of our ability and then send the bill.”
Jaws dropped. The client-side folks looked at each other in disbelief. Silence darkened the room. After a pregnant pause, the highest-ranking client lawyer cleared his throat.
“I don’t think you guys are getting the memo. Look, we are in the business of talking about money. In fact, money is our business. We want to talk about legal costs. We do not consider negotiations about money to be…grubby.”
Amazing. Utterly amazing. Regrettably, however, it is all too often the case that lawyers are afraid to talk to their clients about money, whether before doing the work or after. Most would not refer to money matters as “grubby” (talk about lack of audience awareness–wow!), but the silence regarding the conversations is still the same.
The part of the statement that really captured my attention was the disconnect between the legal work, the fee and the client. It is as if the lawyer believes he determines what the client is paying for and how much. There can be no mistake about this most fundamental point: IT IS THE CLIENT’S MONEY. THE CLIENT, NOT THE LAWYER, DETERMINES WHAT WORK IS DONE AND HOW MUCH IT WILL PAY FOR IT. If the lawyer is uncomfortable with this reality, the client should exercise its inherent power and find a different lawyer.