First, let’s kill all the lawyers

So said Shakespeare.  Great.  Lawyer-hate has been going on for years.  When I joined the profession, three zillion years ago, in a world where receiving a fax was a cause for wonder, we were only hated by a few. That seems to have changed.

So does everybody still hate us and if so, why?

Well, the very obvious thing is fees.    For some people, legal services are just seen as a necessary evil rather than a valuable resource .   However much you may add to their business and indeed save them money,  many clients seem to suffer temporary amnesia at the time of the bill negotiation.   I still don’t know how to get the billing process right .    Time recording is an internal tool and certainly not the only measure of value, but value-based billing is extremely difficult to assess. I’m quicker than my colleague,  so should I earn less than that out of the same transaction?

Another thing I noticed quite soon after I became a grown-up lawyer was how much of the anti-lawyer sentiment was coming from across the pond .  It seemed to me that we were being tarred with the same brush as the ambulance chasers and it became perfectly acceptable to make what were really quite unpleasant jibes about lawyers .

It didn’t help that there was then an invasion of US firms in particular, into the UK market and UK firms, in an effort to compete, raised their salaries and their charge out rates and suddenly clients were dealing with a different culture, different billing systems and a different approach to the law generally .

I was astonished to discover that my US counterparts just simply billed their time monthly and then ” had it out” with the client when they raised the inevitable complaint .  It was just so different to our gentlemanly UK approach when talking about the bill was excruciating and the approach was often cringingly apologetic .  Also not ideal.

I think that part of the problem is that clients find lawyers negative,  failing to realise that the lawyer’s whole mindset and training is based on looking at what can go wrong or what’s missing and they are simply preparing the client for the various possible outcomes.   For some, the lawyer is just getting in the way of the deal or slowing it down. I do have a lot of  sympathy with clients.   When you get an intransigent or incompetent lawyer on the other side it makes the  deal miserable and the whole transaction becomes caked in negativity.   On a recent, I estimated that  an extra £20,000 was incurred due to the other side’s lawyer’s behaviour. But who should pay for that? Me?  So my client pays for the other side’s crap lawyer and invariably I take a hit too. So we’re all unhappy.   I sometimes hate lawyers too.

But the truth is, most lawyers are simply trying to do their best for their clients .   They are generally honest, they work hard, they don’t cheat, they have a regulatory framework to govern their behaviour which is so complex it would astonish most clients and they are, in the main, collaborative and civil to each other.

It seems to me that the recent recession has knocked the stuffing out of some lawyers as firms have struggled to maintain their fee income and some of the big  City boys are no longer masters of the universe and perhaps that is no bad thing.  Maybe a dose of reality was needed, although I very much suspect that memories will be very short.

I don’t know how to alter the public perception of lawyers. There are other hate figures around at the moment – some of my banker friends say they work in the financial services industry these days – and we’ll always be more popular than traffic wardens. I think.