Today I had to deliver unwelcome news to a client – it is costly to do this. There are essentially two buckets of costs when a lawyer delivers unwelcome news:

  1. The cost of the lawyer’s time – borne by the client
  2. The cost of a broken heart – borne by the lawyer.

Read on for context on why the costs of unwelcome news from your lawyer are higher, generally speaking, than the costs of welcome news.

When the client presents their goals and their plans for accomplishing the goals, and the goal and the plans are consistent with laws and regulations, the lawyer is generally able to quickly focus on the legal requirements and confirm that the client’s plans and goals are legal. The lawyer then can happily advise the client that yes – your plan and your ultimate goal are consistent with the laws – go for it.

However, when the client presents a plan that may not be consistent with the laws or, the worst, has already done something that is inconsistent with the law, it takes the lawyer a lot more time to get the client an answer.

It takes more time because the lawyer now must go down a bunch of legal research paths in an effort to come up with a way for the client to execute that is consistent with the law.

I love doing this type of legal research since it is challenging. I also love that it requires dogged determination, curiosity about what my client really wants to do, and creative thinking about how the law can be applied or interpreted to support the client’s goals and plan.

This is how the first cost, the cost of the lawyer’s time, which the client bears, comes into play. When a lawyer needs to conduct legal research beyond confirming that the client’s plan complies with the law, in other words, the client’s goals, plans or actions do not really comply with the law, the lawyer’s legal research is more expansive then when confirming the client’s plans are consistent with the law.

In these situations, the lawyer researches the law at issue, but then must conduct additional legal research to see if there is some interpretation of the law that may support the client’s plans. For example, in federal government contracting or in reviewing export regulations, the lawyer will most likely turn to researching the words used in the regulations to see how they are defined in a way that may be helpful to the client. If that does not work, then the lawyer may decide to research related regulations to see if there is something in related regulations that may be applied to the client’s plans that would support doing the plan. If that does not work, then the lawyer may research the history of the regulation and why it exists to see if there is wiggle room for interpretation. The lawyer may then research to see if any changes to the regulations are being considered that will support the client’s plans. Next, the lawyer may research case law to see how courts have interpreted the regulations to see if that may support the client’s plans. And, finally, if the lawyer strikes out, then the lawyer researches to identify what has happened to other companies that didn’t follow that particular law at issue so the client can know the risks.

Even just typing this, I get exhausted….

So imagine all the lawyer time, a cost to the client, and brain power to go through this analysis.

Which leads to the second cost – the cost of the lawyer’s heartache. This cost is the hit a lawyer’s heart (for all you funny people out there, yes lawyers have hearts) takes when they have to tell the client: your goal is not achievable, your plan will not work, or the very worst news, what you did is not consistent with the law… now we have to figure out how to fix it.

Clients please note:

  1. We don’t like delivering legal counsel that is a no, don’t do it.
  2. Pushback on your lawyer when we deliver the no, don’t do it… perhaps we did not think of something.
  3. Understand why when we deliver unwelcome news, it costs more because it takes more time for us to find a creative solution that may not be obvious, and even then, we may fail.
  4. At times, our efforts to find a creative solution pays off and those moments are sweet for the lawyer and the client. So, unless your lawyer says it is not worth the time to look for a creative solution, paying that extra cost may be worth it.
  5. Know your lawyer is paying a cost too – some heartbreak.

As one of my favorite authors has said:
“The heart was made to be broken”. ~ Oscar Wilde

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