Payment by clients should be thanked enough for lawyers
Being a lawyer can be an extremely stressful job. Lawyers often have to deal with antagonistic adversaries who can make a counterpart’s life hell. Additionally, lawyers may have to deal with clients who may make it difficult to achieve representation. As mentioned in a previous article, it is not uncommon for clients to give lawyers gifts to thank them for a job well done. However, most of the time the only thanks a lawyer gets from a client (even if the lawyer goes above and beyond normal expectations) is getting paid on time, and that’s almost always a good enough expression. gratitude from customers.
I learned this fact of practicing law earlier in my career when I was a partner in a small store. The partner and I worked for a particularly needy client, the type of person who would send you a second email if the first email was not answered within hours. We had to devote three times more energy to this client than any other client we worked for at this firm because the client’s requirements were exaggerated and the client was making a mountain out of a molehill at every stage of the litigation process. .
I think I said up front that the client should be grateful that we were willing to handle such issues on the client’s part and still did a quality job on the file. The partner said that the client thanked us by paying us on time. The partner was of course right, and lawyers often have to work with needy clients as well as strong clients when building their practice.
Many times in my career, I’ve gone above and beyond for my clients, and receiving payment on time was about the only expression of thanks I’ve ever received (which was fine by me). Once, just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I managed a deal for a lump sum. Due to the complexity of COVID-19, the deal took approximately four times longer than a typical closing. Also, due to the uncertainty of the economic climate in the early months of the pandemic, my client wanted to get out of the deal.
I warned that withdrawing from the agreement could create significant legal liability for my client. My client was unhappy to hear my advice and made hurtful comments to me. It was hard to hear, especially since I was working so hard on his deal for a very small fee.
The deal ultimately went off without a hitch and, as we all know, the economy rebounded quite quickly from the initial downturn. It made my client’s deal much, much better than what the client could have gotten six months later, and it would have been extremely unwise to cancel the deal. The client never apologized for making hurtful comments and never thanked me for giving him good advice on the transaction. And I never needed such thanks since the timely payment by the customer was enough for me.
Another case I handled also required me to go beyond the normal workload of lawyers. For transactions of this type, it was common to process payments by wire transfer. However, I once represented a client who wanted me to go to the closing in person and collect payment from the client. It was a schlepp to go all the way to the fence, but I wanted to please the customer, so I agreed.
The client also demanded that I hand deliver the check with the closing proceeds to the client to avoid the possibility of the check being lost in the mail. The whole ordeal took almost an entire day since I had to drive to attend the closing, attend the closing for about an hour and deposit the check to the customer before returning home. When I presented the check to the client, I never received any kind of gratitude despite my best efforts. Maybe the client didn’t know how atypical all that work was, but in my mind, I was okay with accepting payment from the client as enough gratitude for all that work.
All told, lawyers sometimes go above and beyond their clients’ expectations in extraordinary ways, and clients don’t explicitly thank their lawyers for such efforts. However, lawyers should bear in mind that payment by a client is sufficient to thank, since we are in a service industry where compensation and retention are generally sufficient.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diary, a website explaining how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan by e-mail at [email protected].