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News & Opinions

Monday, October 12, 2009

One Attorney's Opinion

“My attorney is a fighter. He always fights to the last dollar of my money!” (Anonymous)

From the first day of law school attorneys are trained to be zealous advocates. By nature, attorneys are competitive. We fight to win, to achieve our client’s goals by besting the other side. Frankly, our clients look to us to be the combatants in the ring, championing their cause and advancing their interests. Our clients want us to go after the other side without pity or remorse.
 
But are we really serving our client’s interests by aggressively litigating? Should our focus instead be on solving our client’s problems by other means? In other words, should we look for alternatives to fighting and resort to legal combat only as a last resort?
 
By asking the questions I am also supplying my answers. Now, I like a good fight. It starts the adrenaline flowing and enlivens the practice of law. In addition I have no objection to earning legal fees from litigation; they can be quite good. But sometimes I think I better serve my clients by counseling them regarding why litigation is not always the best approach to resolving their legal problem.
 
Obviously, the decision to litigate is fact dependent and sometimes litigation is undertaken to make a point rather than achieve a specific objective. However, too often clients authorize litigation without truly understanding both the monetary and the psychological costs involved.
 
I view my role as an attorney to be an advocate, a counselor and an advisor. The advocate role is well understood by clients. The counselor and advisor roles are not.  In my experience, a good counselor is one who can help the client look at alternative means to achieve the desired end. The advisor then evaluates the alternatives, provides the client with his or her professional advice on the best strategy to employ, and often guides the client to make the most appropriate decision. These roles are not as much fun – and may not be as financially rewarding to the attorney – but they go to the fundamental service we provide, which is to help our clients resolve their legal problems.
 
While we are taught to be zealous advocates, perhaps we serve our clients best when we serve them least. Litigation is not the first strategy and frequently not the best alternative.

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