In Season 1 of the Agile Attorney Podcast, we are focusing on the Voice of the Client. I am bringing you the stories of real people in their own voice talking about the challenges and successes they have had dealing with lawyers. You can listen to the episode in your favorite podcast app using one of these links: Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Google Podcasts; Stitcher; Overcast; PocketCasts; YouTube (with subtitles).
Today we’re re-visiting family law by hearing from Jason, who thought he and his ex-wife were on the cusp of an amicable divorce. But he eventually came to feel like the legal system was set up, either by rule or by custom or both, to put him and his wife in an adversarial posture. As he puts it later in the interview, “It was not a contentions divorce, but it was a contested one, and it became more contentious as time went on which fueled the fire and kept it going.”
The thing I hope lawyers really listen for in this episode is what I see as a giant disconnect between Jason’s expectations of what kind of support he’d get from his lawyer versus how she actually approached his case. And this is a lawyer he liked, but where he was looking for basic information on what to expect and how to navigate his case, his lawyer kept him at arms length and, as it seems to me, acted more like a technician than a caregiver.
This, for me, is an example of something I see all the time with lawyers who work in the people law sector. The lawyer tends to think that their clients want a “do it for me” approach, where the lawyer gets all of the information and takes care of the legal stuff, but the client is left sort of in the dark about what is actually happening. And while there may be clients who are looking for that approach, I think they’re in the minority.
I think what most clients really want is a “do it with me” approach, where the legal team really involves the client and engages with them throughout the process so that they really understand what’s going on and aren’t dependent on the lawyer for information. Another thing Jason says in this interview really stuck with me: “I can’t afford to ask my attorney questions.” To me—and to Jason—that’s just not right.
On another level, though, his lawyer (and his ex-wife’s lawyer) followed the typical lawyer playbook with respect to hourly billing—yet another reason why I think hourly work is inherently incompatible with a good client experience.
I won’t go too far down that rabbit hole right now except to say that if you’re one of those attorneys who is thinking “yeah, but hourly is the only way that I can protect myself from too much risk, “ you’re not only wrong, you probably need to get over yourself a little. There are tons of attorneys out there doing phased flat fees, subscriptions, and using other pricing models that better align with client expectations AND will actually result in more profitable practices. Yes, even in litigation and family law. But that’s a topic for another episode. In fact, if you want to debate me on the merits of hourly billing—get in touch and we’ll have it out.
But for now, I really encourage you to listen to what Jason has to say about his experiences finding, working with, and ultimately losing his lawyer when he runs out of money, and also the resourceful ways he taught himself how to handle his own case when he had no other choice.
One other thing to close this one out…
One of the principles of accessible design is that by making systems more accessible for the most challenged users, you wind up improving outcomes for everyone. Yes ramps around staircases are essential if you’re in a wheelchair, but they also are a huge benefit if you’re pushing a stroller, sprained your ankle as a weekend warrior, or even if you’re an elite athlete who just happened to run a marathon yesterday.
The same goes for better designing access into the legal system. I’ve said many times that, at its core, the access to justice gap is an accessibility problem. And if we design the system to be more accessible for people who are representing themselves, we will also make things better for lawyers—and more affordable for their clients—along the way.
I want to extend a special shout out and thank you to IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, who connected me with Jason for this episode. You can learn more about them and their fantastic work on their website. And also a shout out to all of the amazing legal librarians and court facilitators who help everyday people protect their rights in the civil justice system.
Stay tuned through the end of the interview to learn how you can craft the ultimate law firm mission statement that will help you focus your practice on finding that perfect niche that solves the right kinds of problems for the people and communities you truly care about.
I’d love to hear what you think, so please listen to the episode and then drop me a line via email or on social media.
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