Why Can’t My Attorney Be My Friend?

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., owner of Ask The Business Lawyer, is an award-winning business attorney, speaker, and Entrepreneur Magazine online contributor. She saves consulting and professional services companies time, money, and aggravation by serving as their outsourced legal counsel.

Posted on January 7, 2012 in Planning & Advisors

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Well there’€™s absolutely no reason that she can’t. Many attorneys are fun, interesting, caring people (you have to be, to go into a profession to solve people’€™s problems)! But the “I thought my attorney was on my side . . . until I got the bill” plaint has come up a few times since I published my “€œEven the Big Players Complain About Legal Bills” post. As Lauren commented:

I started using my attorney for everything and felt so covered and so safe BUT then I got the bill. I was charged for things like “Listening to clients voicemail” and I couldn’t believe it. 

So let me add this to the subject. Because of the stress of entrepreneurship, many business owners look for support. That’€™s perfectly natural (and wise!). Being part of an entrepreneur’s advisory team, a small business attorney is a natural place to look for it. But sometimes, business owners may be looking for emotional support even more so than professional support. Take the example of “Susan,” a consultant who worked with a difficult client. Susan was upset that the client didn’t pay all of the fee . . . but what’€™s even more galling is that the client is complaining and wants her money back. Susan spoke to an attorney (me!) and unleashed a torrent of information about the client, how she’€™s crazy/inconsistent/unrealistic/hasn’€™t a leg to stand on. Part of what Susan was seeking was emotional support and validation, of the “€œYes, you’€™re right, the client is crazy; you’€™re not being treated fairly” variety.  Susan wasnted to vent to a sympathetic ear (don’€™t we all?). After all, who understands the trials and tribulations of her business better than her attorney? However, attorneys sell their time, and the more you lean on an attorney in a quasi-therapeutic capacity, the higher the charges for telephone calls will mount. Here’€™s a way to manage that:

  • As I mentioned before, get really clear before beginning the attorney-client relationship on what the attorney will charge you for. Use Lauren’€™s example (“€œlistening to client voice mail”) as a launching off point. Ask for cost (and time) estimates for the services you’ll want performed. You’€™d do it with a web designer;€“ why not with your attorney? If you want to be sure that the attorney’€™s style and demeanor is “€œsimpatico” with yours, arrange for an initial in-person meeting where you can clarify many of the “€œhow-will-we-work-together” issues.
  • Before you call your attorney, think carefully about what you want to say and why you are calling. Are you looking for your attorney’s advice? Or are you calling because you want to do the talking? You are paying an attorney for her expertise, not just to listen to you talk. If you real need is to be listened to, think about using a business coach or therapist instead to clear the emotions out of the situation. You’€™ll then be able to use the attorney more effectively for, and with greater focus on, the business problem-solving.
  • Join networking and mastermind groups. Your attorney can help you solve a business problem€“ and even prevent them from occurring in the future. But for ongoing emotional and business strategy support, you should also cultivate a team. Networking and mastermind (also called “€œpeer advisory”) groups can help you develop and find members for your “Support Squad”.
  • Cultivate the attorney relationship “off-line”. There are ways to develop a comfort level with your attorney other than taking time on the telephone. Ask to be placed on an invitation list if she gives seminars or teleclasses on business-related subjects. Subscribe to a newsletter or other publication list that she publishes. You’€™ll not only learn a lot; you’€™ll have a better idea of the questions you should be asking her when you next speak on the telephone. And that will help keep your costs down!

 

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