It has always been considered to be the alpha and omega of the legal profession. The basic assumption that is so often repeated. The standing principle: “We (the lawyers) are just perfect – all we need is to find the clients.”
For years I have been genuinely interested in listening to my clients – associating with them, living with their problems, walking in their shoes. And in my experience, and in vivid contrast to that basic assumption, it is much more common to find clients that stand on the opposite side of the spectrum: they struggle to find the right lawyer/law firm.
My Associates must be sick and tired of hearing me respond to their complaints by insisting: “There’s enough clients around; find me a lawyer.” But if we really put ourselves into clients’ shoes, the significance of the assertion becomes obvious.
Clients are different: they have various types of demands, changing preferences, diversified business approaches, and complex decision-making mechanisms. In the dynamic client-service provider relationship there is one basic principle: “The clients’ world comes first.” Attempts to place the lawyers’ interests first may see the bond between the two start to loosen.
Hundreds of law books focus on the need for lawyers to become “trusted advisors,” “rainmakers,” “eminent practitioners,” and the like. All these tips and tricks of the trade should be seen as minor and additional adjustments to the main principle: “We serve our clients, and their success, achievements, and goals come first in our list of priorities.”
Very often, when I am walking home, well after midnight, upon completing some urgent task for a client I wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t actually enjoy what I’m doing. It would be the most terrible job ever. And I’m reminded that embracing the “clients first” principle has a dual benefit – both external (for the client) and internal (for our own motivation and well-being).
Clients should be respected – which unfortunately is not always the case among lawyers. You can serve someone successfully only if you have made the basic first efforts to step out of your comfort zone and actually understand your client’s point of view. Clients are clever; they see through us and notice much more that we imagine. They feel free and entitled to talk and share the best kept secret of our profession – that lawyers are far from perfect – and to point out in which direction we should change and adopt. In the modern world of global law firms, observing these fundaments becomes a challenge like none before. Charts, profitability models, lockstep, churns, leverage, etc.: it seems that in the business of law these days there is no place for The Client. And yet it is The Client and his world that really matter. This is the alpha and omega. This is the founding principle and the main starting point. So there is one way for all of us to remember who comes first – by putting this principle on the top of our agenda, in the preamble of our service-providers’ constitution and as our main motto. Because it’s their world. First.
By Kostadin Sirleshtov, Partner, CMS Sofia
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.6 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.