Bar News - November 13, 2009
When Is “Good Enough” Ever Good Enough?
By: Ed Poll
A recent post by lawyer Richard Granat on the elawyering blog contained a very powerful statement that is highly relevant in current economic conditions: "Consumers want solutions to their legal problems. If they can get legal solutions in a form different from a traditional legal service using an attorney that is "good enough" at much less cost, they will turn away from the legal profession and seek those alternatives, if they get results that satisfy their expectations."
Granat cited divorce as a legal service where "good enough" representation – without charging top dollar in a fight to the finish – allows individuals to get on with their lives at an affordable cost. An alternative is pro se representation by the individuals themselves, an example of restructuring the lawyer/client relationship to achieve the objective simply and at low cost.
It’s an interesting speculation. Family law is one of the last vestiges of personal, human legal counsel. There will always be room for the family law practitioner who is sensitive to the needs of the human condition, who brings a sense of order to troubled situations, communicates honestly and directly about the legal and human difficulties involved, and maintains full confidentiality at all times. Such a service is certainly valuable, and should be valued. Yet there is broad anecdotal evidence to suggest that during the past two years of recession, as families have coped with lost jobs, foreclosed homes and shrunken savings, the demand for divorce lawyers is down substantially. People are choosing to live in unhappiness because they think they cannot afford a resolution.
For the family law practitioner, the right client should be someone who realizes that the previous marital relationship has "died," and who will accept assistance to advance the birth of a new life and its relationships. Such a person should be in harmony with the attorney in a philosophical approach on handling the death of the marital relationship. Yet this same person, under financial duress, might turn to a "do-it-yourself" website purporting to offer advice and forms to handle a divorce. Such a decision is based strictly on cost, and could be disastrous for everyone involved.
How can a conscientious lawyer be "good enough" for such a client? The answer is not to cut fees, reduce the quality of service or preach an unproven message about the value of the legal services offered. One practical solution is to take certain services off the table in order to deliver a lower price to the client. In effect, when the client wants a reduced price, the lawyer can unbundle the services to accomplish that objective. In other words, the lawyer will provide a certain service for "X" dollars, and for "Y" dollars will do the same thing minus "abc." Whatever "abc" is, the client can agree to it and understand the message that the price of legal services is being adjusted to fit the appropriate level based on the service to be delivered.
It’s a practical alternative that gives clients both what they need and what they want. That’s more than just "good enough" – it’s good for both sides in the legal service equation.
This article, from Lawyers Weekly, Oct. 2009, is reprinted with permission. Ed Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a nationally recognized expert in law practice management. He recently introduced a new website, www.lawbizforum.com, that deals in particular with law practice management in tough economic times. He may be reached at EdPoll@LawBiz.com.