Let's talk legal etiquette -- the real deal, though. No platitudes on returning phone calls promptly, promising to adhere to a budget or proclaiming knowledge of the client's business. No, let's talk about the hard stuff, which is more immediate, useful and hard-wired. Here, then, is an etiquette guide for the hopeful, the aspiring and the bewildered.
No. 1: How to reject business: I met with the CEO of a business in a creative industry. He wanted me to draft non-compete agreements for his employees. Sounds great, right? Solvent client, interesting work.
But then he said, "I don't know why I need a non-compete. My employees love me. Sure, I throw things at them, but it's the creative process." Stop the presses. My response: "Your problem requires immediate attention, and I am unable to do so now. There are many board certified labor and employment lawyers who can help you." (By the way, do not pawn someone like this off on a fellow lawyer.)
There is a saying among salespeople: The best sale you make is the sale you didn't make. That was all Zen to me until this meeting. Think about this when temptation next knocks.
No. 2: How to act as a businessperson: Why do lawyers often answer the knock on the door and take on business that we shouldn't? My answer: Each of us has a powerful need to be liked -- not Facebook "liked," but liked on a real and personal basis. For a lawyer, nothing says "I like you" as much as being hired to be a trusted adviser.
But this need to be liked, chosen and trusted should never override basic business sense. Back to the CEO with whom I met: If he throws things at his employees, how would he treat me and my staff? He would make unreasonable demands, suck up lots of time and then complain about the bill. Remember: It is easier to stay out than get out.
Lawyers' need to be liked undermines business sense in other ways. Very few attorneys relish sending out bills. But sometimes this means they let bills sit on their desks for months because they subconsciously believe that clients, when receiving bills, will like them less. Let me be direct: Such action (or inaction) is unethical because it puts attorneys' needs (to be loved) above clients' needs (accurate budgeting).
No. 3: How to do right when asked to do wrong: Let's move on to another client, whose deposition was slated. When we met in advance to prepare, he acknowledged engaging in inappropriate behavior toward a female subordinate.
Later, with one call, he put me in an ethical pickle: "Now that I think about it, she was the aggressor, not me. And it's her word against mine. It was all behind closed doors. That's how I plan to testify -- just a heads up." Thanks a lot.
Option No. 1: Be the ethics police, become outraged, tell him that perjury is wrong, get fired. He then goes to another lawyer and does not tell him the truth.