As Darlene wrote in her last post called #DoLessLaw, Inter Alia Law strives to provide legal services efficiently so that our clients have more time to focus on their core business. As she pointed out, the concept of “doing less law” may seem counterintuitive to lawyers who are in the business of providing legal services, but she believes it serves our clients best when we don’t bog them down with unnecessary legal oversight.
To expand on this, it also does not always serve the client well for their lawyer to throw their proverbial weight around. To us, the best lawyers are the ones who know exactly when and how to intervene. They know how to strike the precise balance between protecting their client from unnecessary risk, while still allowing their client’s business to flourish.
The concept of knowing how to strike the right balance is certainly not peculiar to professionals in the business world. It is a concept that applies to anyone who is highly-skilled at their craft. For example, when you think of former Led Zeppelin drummer, the late, great John Bonham, you think of someone who was incredibly adept at striking the right balance between being a powerhouse drummer and someone who could also apply the lightest touch to his work. “An elephant in a tutu”, is how some referred to Bonham.
A journalist for Magnet Magazine once wrote: “Bonham is known for being one of the loudest, most powerful drummers of all time, and rightly so…But like all great drummers, he knew when to hold back, appreciating that he was there to serve the song.”
We think that some of the best lawyers practice in the spirit of that sentiment. While it is true that lawyers must act as resolute advocates for their clients, they should also be discerning in deciding the form such advocacy will take. In other words, they know “when to hold back” to best serve their client. Not every situation requires a sledgehammer when a feather will do. Being over-lawyerly simply for the sake of it – whether it be in the use of antiquated legal jargon or in adopting an overly-aggressive approach with the other side – can quickly take up your clients’ time unnecessarily. It can also frustrate the parties with whom your clients are trying to establish long-term working relationships.
Using another example from the drumming world, but to illustrate the opposite point, consider actor J.K. Simmons’ recent Oscar-winning turn in the movie, Whiplash. Audiences left the theatre in awe of his powerful performance but also terrified by his portrayal of Terence Fletcher, a music conservatory teacher whose brutal teaching methods pushed his jazz students to the brink. In his mind, his fear-based approach was justifiable in order to bring out the best from his students, but the lingering question from the film was whether Fletcher’s approach was really effective in doing so, or whether his method proved to be counterproductive in the long-run. We tend to think it was the latter.
To be clear, there are times when lawyers need to assist their clients in exercising their rights to the fullest. Sometimes the stakes are so high that nothing but an aggressive position will do. But lawyers are only rarely required to call on their inner “Fletcher” in order to effectively serve their clients. Overly-aggressive legal positions can be counterproductive in many situations. For parties who have a relationship they wish to preserve, it may be more sensible to propose settlement talks rather than immediately threaten to file suit. It may be better in some situations to send a simple email than a formally-written demand letter. Not every dispute needs to turn into a blood sport, and with the right lawyer and strategy, it doesn’t have to. Each situation requires a careful analysis of the parties and particulars involved, the potential costs and the ultimate goals of the client. Effective lawyering does not equate with excessive lawyering. To us, the greatest lawyers are the ones who know how to use their “chops” in just the right measure.