The Times Are Changing for Lawyers.

“The portion of what lawyers

do that absolutely, positively,

nobody else can do is thin

and shrinking.”

Jordan Furlong, Three Ways to Compete in the Marketplace; New Math, New Money: A Lawyer’s Guide to the Changing Business of Law.

It is a warning that has been coming at lawyers for years now. Our system of doing business isn’t going last.  Courts offer fill-in-the-blank forms for nearly every matter ranging from small claims to probates.  Websites can draft wills at cheaper prices than attorneys. Documents needed to buy and sell a home or property can be found online. Leases, contracts, employee policy manuals all can be found for free or nearly-free in a book at the library.  In many ways, it is true.  The things that only a lawyer can do are few and the public wonders, “Do I really need a lawyer for this?”

The answer is…maybe.  But you should talk to a lawyer first to find out.  I agree that the landscape of legal services has changed. Clients are fed up with paying lawyers thousands of dollars before filing for a divorce only to be asked for a few thousand more before an important hearing, only to be asked for more before the trial.  And once the client hires the attorney and falls into the world of billable hours,, it seems there is no way out. The same complaints are made by insurance companies who pay for defense attorneys, businesses who work with lawyers on a regular basis, and families who just want to settle the estate of a loved one that passed away.

So what are the few key things that a lawyer can actually provide you as a client?  Well,  one thing is a meeting.  That sounds pitiful – some coffee and an hour for you to explain your situation and maybe get some answers.  Those initial consultation meetings often seem like a lawyer’s sales pitch.  “You’re not my client, but I can get you signed up for X amount of dollars and then we can delve into what our firm needs to do to help you out.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if a lawyer just said,

“I think the best steps for you are to do numbers 1, 2, 3, and depending upon whether you think you’ve gotten what you want at that point, we can discuss whether number 4 or 5 is appropriate. In order to get you through that process, I will charge X amount of dollars up through number 3.  Once we get to the point of deciding about number 4 or 5, it will cost X to do number 4 or X to do number 5.  How do you feel about those costs?  Would the decision be easier if I let you make equal monthly payments?”

Here’s some great news. There are lawyers doing just that.  Having open conversations about exactly what a lawyer does and exactly how much it will cost. Let’s be fair. If one of the biggest complaints about lawyers is the fee structure, then online services ought to be losing!  The benefit to having a real-life, breathing and walking attorney is that the client has the power to negotiate fee arrangements.  And any lawyer who won’t discuss them or negotiate them doesn’t deserve the client’s business.  This doesn’t mean that clients should get to set the price for legal help, but they certainly should get some input.  What’s that age-old saying, two heads are better than one?  Your lawyer should adopt that philosophy; a client is part of the legal system, not just the financial support of it.

So if you feel like trying something new and different – a lawyer who considers the client as part of the legal team, contact Kirk Law Office. My mission is to ensure that clients get what they really want from the attorney-client relationship: value.  Not just a contract, a signed document, a court-order.  Clients deserve more – a true relationship and input into what the attorney does and what it should cost.

Johanna R. KirkAttorney, Superior WI