Would You Hire a Lawyer to Fix Your Car?

by Robert Harvie October 11, 2012

I like to think I'm a reasonably intelligent person.

I had the good fortune to attend University and ultimately obtain a law degree.  Beyond my formal education, I've learned a few other skills, I ski, I golf, and I play a mean game of Angry Birds.

But when it comes to my car, I don't have much of a clue.  I have a vague notion of the theory behind the internal combustion engine, but couldn't imagine trying to decipher the intricacies of making engine repairs myself.  I go to an expert in that area when I need help.

I would imagine I'm not alone in the legal profession in this regard.  I would guess there are very few lawyers who are competent to work on your engine.

So then.

As lawyers, if our clients expressed a frustration with their motor vehicle during the collaborative process, we would be highly unlikely, to say, "Well, tell you what, let me have a look at it."   What lawyer would suggest to a client that, at the lawyer's very modest skill level, and at their billable hour rate, the client should entrust the repair of their car to their lawyer?

Which raises an interesting point.

Because many of us (and I've been guilty myself) do that exact thing on many of our collaborative files.  We find ourselves running into a problem with financial planning, with child issues - and we try to muddle through it ourselves. 

The excuse?  Our client can't afford to hire another expert.

As if the service we provide is free. 

If our client's car broke down outside our office, virtually none of us would suggest that the client pay us to fix their car.  Yes - going to a mechanic will cost them something.  But it clearly would be the most efficient and prudent use of their money.


Maybe think about that if you feel reluctant to engage in the team approach to Collaborative work.  Maybe, when you feel pressure to be all things to your client put your mind to the efficiency of reaching out to other possible team members for assistance.   Financial experts, child experts, coaches...  there is a place for them in YOUR file, most likely.


I guess you could roll up your sleeves and try to replace their torqued-out bindle rotor.

Comments (3) -

mediationnotwar@gmail.comUnited States
12/6/2012 1:28:08 AM #

Robert, it's a good analogy. I'm still not sure whether the resistance to the team approach is through a lack of demand or lack of supply. My own experience is that most clients  are willing to listen to my advice about the process and any team members. Yet the traditional one-lawyer approach remains the most popular with my colleagues. Why? I reckon it's mainly due to an unwillingness to experience the short term income reduction that changing to a principled approach would lead to. Indeed, last year it at The Forum  in San Francisco I met a very senior and well known lawyer who told me that he would give up his litigation practice only once his kids were through college. I suspect he is not the only one. Except I doubt he will give it up when the time comes, because then his retirement fund will be the excuse.

View my profile on www.collaborativepractice.com

kevin@scudderlaw.netUnited States
12/14/2012 11:04:56 PM #

Good post, Robert.  

Nice timing, too.  I just replaced my 1997 Toyota Corolla with a new car, and within a month, it has to go into the shop to replace a faulty part that prevents full enjoyment of the vehicle.

I have no interest whatsoever in doing the work myself.  I know my limitations.  Usually.

In October, 2011 I presented on Collaborative Best Practices in Gig Harbor, WA.  One topic we discussed was the use of a Coach.  The group covered the spectrum of responses, from do not need a coach, to do not use a Coach if you think the clients cannot afford it or are going to balk at the cost, to use a Coach in all instances.

Going into my fifth year of Collaboration my own best practice has changed.  I now insist on a Coach.  I also insist on a Financial Neutral when the nature of the assets require it (most cases).  I will recommend a Parenting Specialist when needed, but I find that professional is not always needed if there is a high level of co-parenting skills being shown.  

I am comfortable sharing with my client that use of these professionals will result in a better result for them and will be less expensive in costs and emotional toll.  It is something I truly believe, after a few years of trying to "protect" my client by imposing my value that saving them money in the short run would make them happier with the process and with me.

I think that is a misguided approach. In the de-brief of a recent case one of the things the other attorney took away, and I agreed, was that in the Collaborative Process the attorneys need to delegate more than we do.  We need to let the radiator specialist do her thing, the oil and lube guy do his, and the power train folks do theirs.

Our clients are best served by a Team willing to let others shine in the way that best fits the needs of the clients.

View my profile on www.collaborativepractice.com

1/3/2013 6:35:05 AM #

Thanks for the comments Stephen and Kevin..  it can be difficult for the lawyer to let go of complete control, and the hesitency of a client to incurr what they may see as an "additional" expense can make the decision to expand the team a difficult one - but I have found this analogy works pretty good as it forces a client to actually look at me, look at my billing rate, and then visualize me screwing around with their car..

And I think you make a very good point Kevin.  Too often I over-estimate my client's (or the other client's) capacity to work above their emotional baggage..  to unfortunate results.

The practice of INSISTING on a coach may well be one that I will need to adopt.

View my profile on www.collaborativepractice.com

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