Trust me, for a moment at least, that all of the following points eventually will come together.
Every time I have the opportunity, I ask in-house counsel about whether their lawyers conduct formal or informal satisfaction meetings. Almost invariably, the answer is no. I always follow up by asking whether the client would find such meetings useful. With equal frequency, the answer is yes.
From time to time, I ask lawyers whether they conduct formal or informal satisfaction meetings. Almost invariably the answer is no. When explaining why, lawyers almost always say the same thing: if there is anything wrong, my client will tell me. The gist of their point is that their relationship with their client is special and how dare for me for even implying that something so gauche as a discussion is needed.
Last night, as I am watching multiple channels at once, I am caught by a moment on a Dr. Phil-type show where the husband and wife are discussing their most intimate problems in front of a nationwide audience (and with syndication, perhaps a world-wide audience). Breakthrough after breakthrough. The Dr. Phil-type host offers this profound insight: "your problem is that the two of you don’t talk about your problems" (except in front of this nationwide audience). He then goes on at length about how every relationship has problems (I think "hiccups" was the technical term) and that only by identifying them and talking them through can you hope to keep them from growing from small problems to bigger ones and, with good and candid talk, put them behind you. Hardly profound, but most certainly true.
Also last night, I watched two of my kids, within the space of a few minutes, go from being BFFs to being unable to be in the same room to being, once again, BFFs. The solution, a short but candid talk (with yours truly in the Dr. Phi-type role) asking each to explain why she was upset and what her perspective on the problem was. The eye-opening moment? When each saw the other’s perspective, their own assessment seemed "less correct" and their judgment less harsh.
How do these three vignettes tie together? Many (most?) outside lawyers operate on the premise that their personal relationship with their client is different that all other relationships that exist between people on our planet. Every relationship has its problems. Oh, excuse me–every relationship except for that individual lawyer’s relationship with his or her client. That one relationship is special. But do the math. It can’t be that every relationship between every lawyer and every client is "special"–that is, immune from the rules of relationships that apply in every other kind of relationship. And if not all lawyer and client relationships are special, the question that must be asked by each lawyer is why my relationships are different from all others? Lawyers are never good at asking that question and it is doubtful that this short rant will cause any epiphanies. But suffice it to say, until lawyers wake up and smell the relationship coffee, they will be missing the opportunity to "bulletproof" their relationships. (Click here for a discussion of BulletProofing, a Gerry Riskin term that is more important than ever in today’s difficult economic times.)
Now, does anyone what to discuss being shortsighted?