Overnight (Australian time) Bruce MacEwen, President of Adam Smith, Esq and a leading commentator on professional services, wrote an outstanding blog post – ‘The Client Seat‘.
The post outlines some of the personal experiences Bruce has recently encountered as part of his role as Chair of the Finance Committee of his local church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church at West 99th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, who own a vacant corner lot abutting the rear of the sanctuary and are looking for ways to realize some value from the asset; and, specifically, as it relates to the process of interviews the church is going through to select and engage a law firm to assist them in this process.
I anticipate there being a lot of commentary written about Bruce’s post – if there isn’t already. It raises a number of thought provoking issues of what it feels like to be sitting in the client’s seat as part of this process and some of the gems that lawyers and law firms come out with to try and impress a prospective client into appointing them to do the work – even where they may not be qualified to do the task at hand.
But what really grabbed my attention in the post was the following observation Bruce makes:
The other asymmetry is one of disclosure and, to be pointed about it, candor: The client needs to tell the firm as much as honestly possible about the engagement and what the client knows, while the lawyers’ instinct and practice is to guard information, hedge predictions, and avoid definitive statements. This is true even when the firm is posed direct questions about simple business arrangements and not ultimate outcomes, such as “Who will be working on my matter?”
This is such an on the money observation of the profession, but think about it for a second:
In an age where open candour and transparency around both your personal and your firm’s credentials will most likely win you and the firm the trust of clients and prospective clients, and thus a lot more work in the long run, why do lawyers still feel the need to be guarded and reluctant to give straight answers to straight questions?