I recently found myself in a room full of lawyers.
I was the only nonlawyer in a crowd of 90 to 100 local attorneys gathered to attend the McHenry County Bar Association’s Civil Practice seminar. I was there to give a presentation on “A nonlawyer looks at legal ethics.”
We all have heard hundreds of bad lawyer jokes. For awhile there, the legal profession took quite a beating in the court of public opinion. Yet the truth is the legal profession is one of the most duty- and honor-bound professions in existence. In addition to navigating the statutes and case law in pursuit of their clients’ aims and interests, every Illinois lawyer must conform and uphold the Rules of Professional Conduct that are detailed in a 110-page document.
As I spoke with my audience before and after my talk, it occurred to me lawyers are more like the rest of the business world than we might think. They have the same pressures as the rest of the business world. Getting and keeping clients is their bread and butter, just like building our business relationships is. Efficiency, dependability, reliability and high quality performance are what our customers demand and expect of us. The same holds true when we find ourselves in need of hiring a lawyer.
When we hire an attorney, we usually have some form of legal trouble. Perhaps we should not wait until trouble starts before we start thinking about an attorney. Instead, before you need one, ask yourself what are the attributes in a lawyer that you truly expect. Then compare those expectations to yourself and your business and to see how you measure up. The things I expect in a lawyer are honesty, communication and dedication. Here’s how I think they apply to us as business professionals.
Honesty: No one likes bad surprises. Just as you expect your lawyer to be honest with you about your legal situation, give your people – employees and customers alike – the information they need. Inform them about delays, shortages, technical problems, layoffs and any other news that could affect their careers and businesses.
Communication: The No. 1 source of ethics complaints about lawyers is failure to communicate. Good lawyers have mastered the art of communication. They inform their clients about how and when they will communicate with them about their case. Then they do it. Just as you want a lawyer who effectively communicates with you, so too your employees and customers want effective communication about their jobs and business. All the honesty in the world is useless unless it is used to effectively communicate with those who need the information.
Dedication: By professional standards, lawyers are compelled to be singularly loyal to their clients. Just as clients want dedicated lawyers representing them, people want committed partners and trusted advisers who are dedicated to them. Find ways to demonstrate your dedication. This will add value to your business and personal relationships.
• Kathleen Caldwell is president of Caldwell Consulting Group and the founder of the WHEE Institute (Wealthy, Healthy, Energetic Edge) of Woodstock. Reach her at www.caldwellconsulting.biz, firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-206-4014.