“It’s just after so many years, it becomes kind of hard to love your job when no one seems to like you for doing it.”
Much of my law practice is predicated on me being a necessary evil, the professional the clients don’t want to hire, but feel they have to because they have no other choice. Whether it is because someone has sued them or someone has wronged them and their only recourse is to pursue legal remedies, attorneys are frequently looked at as a last, expensive, resort, when all other efforts have failed. And litigators especially are doomed from the start. If they win the case, they did their job and charged too much; if they lose, then they did something wrong and they charged too much.
The quote above is from the Disney animated film, “Wreck It Ralph” and is spoken by the main character as he is attending a support group for video game bad guys. Ralph understands that without him there would be no video game, for without the bad guy there is nothing for the good guy to do; but he still would rather experience the jubilation of being the good guy just once.
I am sure that many of you, at some time or other in your career, have felt as if your client would rather not have to use your services. The accountants especially must feel this way every tax season; as their clients lament having to file their tax returns and pay taxes, an accountant, while indispensable, is clearly a necessary evil and someone people would prefer not to have to pay.
Even though we as professionals are confident in our skills and committed to doing the absolute best for our clients, it certainly impacts our performance if we have the knowledge that our clients have our backs the same way we have theirs. I have definitely had clients who are appreciative of me and my skills and have thanked me for providing the services, yet I know that in the back of their minds, they wish they didn’t have to utilize my services. Whether it is business formation or transactions, estate planning or even, worst of the worst, litigation, the clients are always second-guessing their need for your services. Isn’t there a computer program that could do the same thing, but cheaper? Why am I paying you so much money when I could do it myself for 1/4th as much?
So much of this feeling is predicated on the cost of the services being provided. And I cannot, off the top of my head, think of a profession that isn’t or wouldn’t be affected in this same way. Attorneys and accountants, definitely. Real estate brokers, sure. Insurance brokers? Is there any doubt? Whatever service we provide, it always costs too much, right? Surely there are some who appreciate it, but in this time of economic uncertainty, am I cynical to think that more often than not the clients would prefer not to have to use my services?
So after a while you have to think that it would start affecting performance, right? How do we as professionals continue to put our best foot forward and give it our best efforts? As Ralph said, it is hard to do your job when no one seems to like you for doing it.
I have a client right now who clearly could fall into this boat. She is involved in a trust dispute with her four siblings and has been forced to hire an attorney because all of her other siblings have lawyered up already. She certainly would prefer not to have to spend the money with me, but feels as if she has no choice since everyone else has their own fire power behind them. What should be a simple issue resolved by the siblings themselves has gotten more complicated and definitely more expensive. This client, however, did something that was remarkable in my eyes. The other evening she sent me an email that said, simply, thank you for handling this. I don’t remember the last time I have heard/seen those words and it was refreshing, to say the least.
So I guess that is the answer: for every client who sees you as the necessary evil, the trick is to find the client who truly appreciates what you do and values the services you provide; the client who doesn’t look at you as the more expensive alternative to a “do-it-yourself” program or the hired gun who charges too much. I think that one way to build that is to maintain strong communication with my client. The more my client hears from, the more comfortable they will feel with the services I provide. I typically do not charge for phone calls or emails because I want my clients to be comfortable contacting me with problems or questions and not be worried about getting a bill for the time. I would rather they call and get the answer they need than be apprehensive about calling and thus make a bad decision.
But it does get hard, especially with as much litigation as I do, because no one likes the idea of being in litigation. It is expensive, it is inefficient, it is lengthy and virtually all-consuming and anyone involved in it feels that attorneys are a necessary evil—they are necessary, but also evil. And it sometimes gets difficult to do the job when people dislike you for doing it.
Have any of you felt this way before?
Have a great week and enjoy the opening of the baseball season!