July 7, 2009 - Phil Hodgen

Over-engineered legal research is the Flash website of law firms

There is a message here for law firms: From Ryan Holiday:

When I see a restaurant with a flash heavy website, I see a web designer who tricked a company into paying for stuff they never needed. When I see roadblock ads and site takeovers and big network buys, I think about the lies the ad rep told the executive just trying to get people to hear about his product. I think about his 40% commission. When I read stories on blogs I can hear the few-thousand-dollars-a-month publicist breathlessly selling this inevitably defunct company he signed two days before. And every time someone calls themselves a ‘social media expert’ I know that what they really did was play some company’s genuine desire to stay on top of things into a bullshit job where they don’t do anything.

What is your lawyer pimping selling you that you don’t need?

One of the key lessons I learned as a young lawyer was from the late Don Schaut. I wrote the typical young-lawyer research memorandum with plenty of “on the one hand, on the other hand” stuff in it. He told me in no uncertain terms that this was useless to the client. Clients, he hold me, are grown-ups. They understand stuff, can make up their minds, and can choose to take on risk if they want to. They want Yes/No answers to their questions.

From then on I have strived to answer questions with “Yes” or “No.” Clients want to do something. They need to know whether they can do it or they can’t. If things are unclear, I try to explain the fog–and the risks. Let the client decide what to do. And — most importantly — I don’t sell the client wall-to-wall risk-minimizing legal analysis.

WAC soldiers on mightily about unnecessary research memoranda. So true. (Hint to clients — a legal research memorandum is a lawyer’s way of making you pay to eliminate the lawyer’s risk of maybe being wrong. There’s rarely any value in a research memorandum for you, but there’s plenty of value to the lawyer. If something goes wrong the lawyer will tell you smugly that he/she analyzed the problem and told you all about it, so it’s your own damned fault that things blew up.)

Me, I rail against the lawyer’s propensity for beating every conceivable smidgen of uncertainty out of every possible–and even improbable–event.

I remember hearing Dan Sullivan being asked about how he motivates people. Simple, he said. He only works with pre-motivated people.

We only work with grown-ups. Simple. 🙂