Okay, I don’t actually “hate” lawyers. In fact, my spouse is one, or as I like to refer to her at parties: my common-law spouse as defined by s. 1(1) of the Family Property Act of Manitoba. But , while I don’t actually hate lawyers, they can be very frustrating at times…..
First, let’s list the most common complaints
- Unclear and Infrequent Communication
- Speed of Service
- Huge Bills and Unexplained Costs
- Lack of People Skills
- Lack of Ethics and Good Old-fashioned Manners
Unclear and Infrequent Communication
This fault is a particular pet peeve of mine. Lawyers are incredibly well educated. First, most law students already have a bachelor degree prior to attending law school. Secondly, only a small percentage of applicants are accepted in law school, which means that those accepted received high marks in their undergraduate degree. In law school, we write 30 page essays. We present to judges, professors and fellow law students in mock trials and moot courts. Communication is an essential skill to the law student and professional. So why can’t lawyers communicate effectively with their clients?! While law school doesn’t teach time management, these concepts are not difficult to understand. Lawyers need to make time to communicate regularly with their clients. In terms of clarity, as a profession, I believe we spend more time trying to sound “lawyerly” rather than cutting to the chase and explaining legal concepts in layman’s terms. There really is no excuse for this. As I write this, my level of frustration increases… I hate lawyers!
Speed of Service
I am more forgiving on this issue. Legal problems have a way of spinning out of control. When we accept a file, we may believe it is straightforward, only to find out later that it is in fact significantly more complicated. It would be like someone going to their family doctor with what they believe is a cold only to find out that the cough they have is a symptom of cancer or some other disease. We don’t control the facts. We must contend with whatever occurs and assist the client appropriately. However, these files tend to take up considerably more time than anticipated. If several of these occur at once, we can go from a busy practice to an overloaded practice rapidly. That being said, communication becomes even more important. I find that clients understand that sometimes the best laid plans don’t pan out. But it’s our duty to make sure they know that.
However, back to my previous point, time management is a skill that any lawyer can learn. Those who don’t manage their time well have no excuse.
Huge Bills and Unexplained Costs
My personal belief is that this is a communication problem rather than a fee problem. Legal matters can be complicated, and difficult to navigate. We spend countless hours meeting in my office or the hallway discussing difficult scenarios and the best way to advise our clients. Solutions are rarely black and white. If we give the wrong advice, we can be held liable. So legal matters can take time to figure out. Lawyers don’t build or sell widgets. We sell time – our time. It’s all we have. We must communicate the time and effort applied or required for a matter, otherwise our fees can come as a surprise. However, if we stay in touch with our client and advise appropriately, I find that clients usually understand.
That being said, I won’t go as far as to say that some lawyers do not overcharge. It happens. It happens with everyone, including doctors, contractors, therapists, and retailers. It’s human nature, unfortunately…
Lack of People Skills and Good old-fashioned Manners
While communication is a pet peeve, the above complaint is usually what underlies my frequent outbursts at the office of: “I hate lawyers!”. I’m not sure if it’s personality driven, or culture driven, but clumsy interpersonal skills drive me nuts. Lawyers who run over clients or other lawyers impatiently, disdainfully, or insensitively drive me insane. Why? What’s the purpose? Does it make them feel important?
Sometimes, especially in contentious matters, lawyers must present in a way that says: “don’t mess with me, you’ll regret it”. However, this does not mean that we have to belittle, insult, condescend, or mistreat others. When I practiced criminal defence, we were able to remain civil (in most cases) in murder and child abuse trials. The subject matter of the dispute, whether it be mom’s estate or a horrible event such as murder, cannot and should not affect the discourse between the parties. It’s difficult enough to resolve these matters without lawyers becoming part of the problem. In fact, I believe that lawyers can at times be an impediment to resolution. Ack! I hate lawyers!
For those distinguishing minds out there, you’ll note that I merged the last two points under the previous heading. You’ll also note that I did not address the lack of ethics. While unscrupulous lawyers exist (as unscrupulous people exist everywhere), I can’t say that I often run into this. If we behave unethically towards clients or other lawyers, the law society gets involved. As a whole, I don’t believe this is an issue.
Philippe Richer is President of TLR Law Group. TLR has been located in the St. Boniface neighbourhood, in Winnipeg, since 1996. The office serves the middle class and small business within the province. With a focus on estates, wills, real estate, and corporate law, he leads his team in providing accessible legal services. Philippe also authored the business law course for the Knowledge Bureau and instructed the français juridique class at the faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba.