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In Search of Perfect Client Service Why lawyers don't seem to get it

Pam Woldow on the money with “Grubby Money” post

Posted in Commentary

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.


  • Jeffrey Carr

    I’m having my Sunday morning cup of coffee — it’s a beautiful day as the mist lifts from the yard. Tranquil. Peaceful, Restful All seems right with the world . . . . and then . . . I read this and I am brought back to the realization that my reality is challenged by a skewed parrallel universe inhabited by my professional brethern.

    While utterly amazed at the disconnect, I’m both saddend and perplxed that the disconnect is so very very persistent. It is about the money — for firms, lawyers, clients — all in the legal services chain.

    While “The Law” may not be a business, the provision of legal services is. And perhaps other than the rarefied and very limited environment of “pure law” (think law schools and the pursuit of legal esoterica, supreme court practise and niche government/international areas — which btw, all still have “customers” in some sense), without those clients, the business of law would be merely an academic pursuit with little, if any, real impact on our daily lives.

    It is the client’s money and generally speaking we are not interested in making new law, answering interesting questions of law, or pursuing “quality” through the expenditure of hours and hours of work that, quite frankly doesn’t move the us toward our business objective. We are fundamentally interested in value in our engagement of lawyers and LPO for the provision of legal serivces — and that’s right, I included LPO’s because, again quite frankly, we don’t give a damn about whether much of that service is provided by a partner, an associate, lawyer, a paralegal, an econmist, an accountant, a MBA, a document specialist, a project manager or a courier. We want the the right tool for the job — we want lawyers that focus on what they are good at — the application of knoweldge and judgment to a legal issue — not what they aren’t at prices based on that legally unique knoweldge and judgment. We want access to legal service providers without screams of the “unauthorized practise of law” (the last bstion of self-rigtheous and self-aggrandizing guild mentality) Value means helping the client acheive its business objectives effectively and efficiently. It is all about the money — it always has been and always will be.