The Traditional Approach with Clients seeks to insulate Lawyers and Law Firms from Accountability to those Clients
I was sharing some of my excitement about the success of some of my new approaches to the practice of law with a friend who owns a marketing firm. Specifically, we talked about our secure extranet system through basecamphq.com which allows our staff, virtual workers and clients to see exactly what is happening in their case, who is doing each task and why each task is being assigned. My friends immediate reaction was that he was very concerned that we release such a detailed paper trail of what we were doing in a case from the standpoint of liability and from the standpoint of client expectations and performance. While he thought it was a great idea, he knows that that is not the way it typically works with law firms and their clients. Clients are usually kept in the dark and lawyers are experts at avoiding paper trails which detail what they are going to do and why. Lawyers are great at CYA (cover your ass) letters detailing what they are not going to do.
I had to stop and think about his concern for a minute, on the one hand I completely understood where he where he was coming from given the fact that lawyers rarely if ever keep their clients informed at such a detailed level about what was happening in their matter. I mean, if you tell a client that there are five to-do items that need to get done and they never get done, you as the attorney are going to have a big problem explaining that to the client. In order for this system to work, the attorney has to buy into the proposition that legal matters can be broken down into projects, those projects can be defined, outcomes documented and tasks assigned in order to accomplish each of the important benchmarks in the case. If you believe, as I do, that this approach is a much better way to handle client matters, you are the type of attorney who can strategize and assign tasks, then this system blows away anything else on the market.
In reality, if an attorney cannot define and document exactly what is supposed to accomplish in a matter in order to accomplish client goals, that attorney has no business handling that legal matter. That is why clients pay us so much money, to solve their problems. If we cant tell them how they are going to be solved, we simply are not doing our job.
My clients thus far have been both grateful and enthused about our extranet and the documentation of their legal matter having permanent format that they can access at any time. They appreciate that they can see where their matter started and where it finishes, reviewing the entire recorded history of the project from beginning to end. Perhaps as importantly, it has been a great system for me as the attorney. It actually makes my job easier to have to define the project on the front end. It actually makes my time far more productive since I am working within a very defined structure as I handle a clients legal matter. This task based system intensifies focus in a level beyond any I have ever experienced as an attorney handling a legal matter on behalf of a client. I don't mind being accountable, and I certainly don't mind leaving a paper trail of how we went about solving a client's problem.
Until lawyers are willing to be accountable to clients for each task assigned and each outcome documented, we will never be in a position to provide real value to our clients.