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Monday, November 23, 2015

So Lawyers Are The Most Messed-Up?

And in other breaking news, humans breathe a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. Story at eleven.

There is a somewhat serious report out about the relatively higher prevalence of mental illness, anxiety-related disorders and the like afflicting the legal profession.  As someone with a combined quarter century of experience within the profession, let me decode for you what that means.

First, I write "somewhat serious" because although the issue is serious, the overall message for the general public -- ergo, the customers, that being, many of you as readers -- is what is really important. And that angle is totally ignored!

Second, let's understand something. Customers and clients are looking for solutions. Most often, people want a particular result. Who are we kidding? People want a certain outcome, and the smarter customers realize that they are going through a process involving an opponent, and are trying to achieve the best possible outcome in light of that opposition. It's because of those characteristics that the legal profession can be stressful. 

You see, the legal profession is all about managing an adversarial, contentious process whereby people are trying to assert, or defend, their rights, whether those rights are their civil rights, constitutional rights, privacy rights or property rights. (Most disputes involve those four. You undoubtedly will name others.)

The nature of the business of lawyers, the settlement of disputes, is not pleasant. Most people hate, and in fact cannot, handle their disputes. That's why lawyers are hired. Lawyers are the unarmored gladiators, the mercenaries for hire. 

In short, lawyers get paid to do what most people cannot or will not do for themselves. It can be unpleasant work,  grueling, tiring and exhausting -- and that's when you win. 

As for reputation and status, that is the thinking of the 1980s. It is questionable whether lawyers (or accountants) have the same professional patina they may have enjoyed a generation or two ago. There are undoubtedly those who are in the industry because of its perceived (or so they think) status, and likewise, countless others who despise lawyers for that status. All of that thinking is at least 20-30 years behind the times.

There are some red flags identified in the report. It identifies the prevalence of workplace bullies, the hegemony of white men in the "big firm" ownership structure, and so on. The bully problem is endemic in Western post-industrial society, as bad characters find increasingly fewer outlets for socially-acceptable aggression (or other traits) and therefore resort to exercising these emotions in arenas where there is less resistance.

Are there bullies and bad bosses? Absolutely. Are they more prevalent in the legal profession that in the general population? Not sure. 

Should customers care? No.  Not at all. Unless the bad behavior affects the work product and/or inflates the inefficiencies that get reflected in a higher bill -- which goes to the issue of whether a big organization, a big law firm, is the right solution provider for the customer.

Customers look for solutions, not for some sort of social reordering. Bad bosses are not the customer's problem, they are the employee's problem. But today's employee may be tomorrow's entrepreneur. 

And for every bad boss, for every bad co-worker, there is a corresponding business opportunity for a classy, competent and professional lawyer to capture business or capture that cubicle or windowed office. 

Competence and class still matter. 

What do you think? 

1 comment:

  1. Eric, thank you! At first I was afraid this way yet ANOTHER repetitious public sentencing of all lawyers, that just reinforce executing us all by firing squad. Excellent and well written. - Kristen Rudder Morrell