Clients Need to Chill Out (a.k.a. Lawyer’s Bill of Rights)

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted a Law Firm 2.0 post.  Most of the reason has been that I’m still getting a ton of inbound calls and emails from lawyers telling me that I’m onto something here and they want to add their two cents to further refine my thinking.  I’ll have several more posts in the not too distant future on what I’m learning.

However, today is something completely different in the series.  I’m going to take the lawyers’ sides today.

Lawyers aren’t the only ones to blame on the fee crisis. Clients have responsibilities, too. By proper care and feeding of your lawyer, you will have a much better experience. Trust me, I know.

Here is my proposed Lawyer Bill of Rights that clients should adopt:

1. Make your lawyer your partner. If you don’t want to, you’ve hired the wrong lawyer. That is a “you” problem, not a “them” problem. If you do this, they’ll give you better service and the benefit of the doubt, rather than feeling like a tool in a toolbox;

2. If your lawyers are your partners, treat them like you want to be treated. Have reasonable expectations and realize that they have lives and other clients. Not everything needs to be done today. Give them a heads up when issues arise, not panicked sky is falling phone calls. Nothing will be more appreciated by your lawyer than this. (Okay, maybe paying his / her bills on time);

3. Be transparent with both praise and criticism. Don’t kiss them when they are with you and bash them when they are not;

4. Realize that legal fees are always going to be more than you want them to, but that a great lawyer with a great relationship will add value to the company unlike some other service professionals (cue foreboding music for future “Frustrations” post);

5. Realize that your lawyers are running a business too;

6. Be organized. Run a tight ship. Don’t use your lawyers as secretaries, gophers or copiers. I cannot emphasize enough how much in legal fees you will save by being a good filer;

7. Take your lawyer’s advice. If you don’t want to, again you’ve hired the wrong lawyer. The worst thing a client can do is not follow advice, get in trouble and then have to pay a substantial premium to extricate themselves out of the problem;

8. Get to know your lawyer outside of work. Find out what makes each other “tick” and what common ground you may have. It will make difficult conversations easier if you have mutual understandings and trust; and

9. Realize that change orders cost money. Being an inefficient in communications, emails or bugging your lawyer too much will cost you money. You don’t get to whine about it. If your VC is the problem and they are acting like idiots, than whine to them, not your lawyers. If you don’t want to whine to your VC, then I’m sorry, you are stuck. Again, don’t blame your lawyers.
So this all sounds like touchy feely stuff. How does this save money? Simple. Happy lawyers will work harder, more efficiently, staff with better associates and give you the benefit of the doubt when filling out time sheets for those clients that they honestly like. They might not (want to) admit this, but it’s just normal human nature. Besides, if you treat them right, you have a much better moral high ground for insisting they work hard to minimize costs on your behalf.

Jason is a co-founder and managing director of Foundry Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage IT opportunities. This post first appeared at his new blog, Mendelson’s Musings.