Attitude is everything... and empathy with the client is a must

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Published on 12/12/05

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently entitled, "Teaching Doctors to Be Nicer."

The thrust of the article was that medical schools have a "hidden curriculum," defined as "the negative messages medical students get in front-line, residency training that seem to contradict everything they had been taught [in courses] about ethical behavior, compassionate care and professionalism."

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has developed new standards for, and more aggressive and vigilant enforcement of, competencies of compassionate care, ethical behavior and professionalism.

Now consider the legal profession. First, we don't require anything of the sort in our law schools. In fact, in conversations I've had with educators, they view law as a profession and any such programs are trade-oriented and therefore inappropriate for law schools.

Second, our bar associations experience high disciplinary complaints for management errors by lawyers (such as failure to return phone calls), but don't require law practice management programs as part of MCLE requirements. In fact, they often refuse to give any CLE credit whatsoever.

The "conspiracy" between law schools and bar associations continues to demonstrate the archaic attitude of the profession that management and customer/client care issues are irrelevant! And we wonder why lawyers get a bad rap. We wonder why clients are angry and rightfully believe they have no recourse to redress the management wrongs committed by lawyers!

I recently read a study contending that doctors talk three minutes longer with their patients (clients) than other professionals (lawyers), and that doctors are sued less than lawyers. The conclusion was that this extra communication lowered the risk of malpractice.

Probably far-fetched, but it is true that the focus of the conversation between a professional and a client/patient/customer must be to understand the intent and desires and wants of the client. Only then can you shape your assessment. If the two are in harmony, and you inform the client (so the client understands clearly) what to expect, there is little likelihood of a malpractice claim.

Years ago when I practiced law (before I began coaching and consulting with lawyers), I was very much involved with the State Bar of California's campaign to raise the image of lawyers. I believed this was a losing battle, because by definition 50 percent of the litigating population loses a lawsuit, and will think the other side's attorney was mean-spirited, unethical and unprofessional.

The State Bar conducted focus groups, and I still have videotapes of them. The focus groups said that it was their lawyer (not the opposing lawyer) that created the problem. Poor service, failure to return phone calls, inaccurate arithmetic on the billing statements ... and on and on and on.

I'm all for cleaning up the image of lawyers. But lawyers, first, need to clean up their own act with their own clients. Congratulations to the medical profession for its renewed efforts. It's time for the legal community to wake up and address the real concerns of their clients.

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