She practices family law, and she sent me an e-mail. Here’s what she said:
I hate being “pinged” by my clients most of the day. I love to do legal work. I never have the opportunity because I am always answering burning questions such as, What do I do if my ex is 10 minutes late returning the child? Can I sue my spouse for slander? My spouse doesn’t deserve anything, so why does she get half of my retirement? Do I have to come to court?
Obviously, some of these questions might have a kernel of merit. I run out of patience dealing with some of my clients’ daily lives.
I get e-mails like this all the time.
The resistance to the client communication is a constant theme. I hear it all day long from consulting clients and from the attorneys in my firm.
When I ask questions, I get the same response from every lawyer. They all say, “I like the legal work,” but I don’t like the “client calls.”
We like the “legal work,” and we don’t like the “client communication.” We want to draft a pleading or negotiate a deal. We don’t want to return a call or have a client meeting.
Is the Work the “Legal Work,” or Is the Work the “Client Communication”?
We think the work is the drafting, the negotiating, the strategizing, the trial preparation, and all that other stuff.
The clients think something different.
The clients (and I’ve been one) think the work is taking care of us, answering our questions, making us feel better, helping us worry less, making us feel comfortable, allowing us to let go of the problem, and knowing it’s solved.
The clients want to feel better.
But it gets worse.
The clients also think the work is the greeting of the receptionist, the coffee served in the lobby, the appearance of the website and the lobby, the quality of the paper the documents are on, the convenience of online access to documents, the binder the papers come in after the case closes, and the ease of payment. The clients think the work is all sorts of stuff we consider less important.
You see it differently.
You believe that they’ll feel better when you solve the problem. You know the journey isn’t that important. That’s especially true if the journey distracts you from getting the problem solved. You love solving the problem, and you don’t want to be a tour guide on the journey. You didn’t go to law school to figure out which coffee to serve in the lobby.
I get it. I feel you. I’ve sat in 14-hour mediations, talking to my clients for 13 of those hours about their life, worries, future, history, children, work, fears, joys, sorrows, and everything else. I’ve answered 13 hours of dumb questions, one after another, for longer than a human should have to tolerate. I’ve spent time managing clients, and I’m not here to tell you I loved every minute of it.
But you’d better figure out a way to start enjoying your work—both kinds. If you don’t, you’re going to be miserable forever.
Redefine Your Work So It Works for You
I figured out a way to make it work for me. Now, I’m only miserable some of the time. You can figure out a way to make it work for you.
All you need is a vision of what you want, a plan for creating that vision, and the discipline to execute on that plan. That’s the bulk of what we work on at my workshop. We do that work because it’s the key to loving what you do. It’s how you get what you want. My approach works: I promise.
Most of us spend much of our time resisting the work our clients want us to do while doing the work we want to do. The push/pull creates tension. It makes clients unhappy. It gets us negative reviews on Yelp, et al., and it makes us unhappy.
The work is what the clients decide is the work. They get to decide. You’ll tell me they want both. They want the legal work, and they want the communication. Yep.
We’ve got to deliver it all. We’ve got to find it within ourselves to do what they want. They’re the clients. They pay the bills. They call the shots. They get to decide what they want, and we get to decide whether to deliver it.
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If we decide to deliver something other than what they want, they stop coming. They tell their friends and family about us, and people stop calling, retaining, and paying.