Real Time Web Analytics

Monday, October 25, 2010

Secrecy not a good idea

Recently I had an issue with a client. This person had approached me for an opinion and assistance with an estate. He was a beneficiary of an estate and didn't really understand the documentation that had been sent by the executor. The problem was that the client wouldn't tell me anything.

I could have saved us both an hour had the client been willing to tell me why he wanted to see me. I'm an in-house lawyer. I can't work on files that are not going to involve the company I work for, so I would have declined to see this particular client. This is why I ask people why they want to see me; if it's something I'm not in a position to handle, I help the client find someone who is. This client was coy right from the starting gate, so I knew that secrecy was going to be an issue.

My meeting with the client was very frustrating. He wouldn't let me see any documentation, even though he expected me to give an opinion on their effect and meaning. Even though he had the documents in his briefcase, he preferred to try to describe them to me. Not an easy job when you're not a lawyer! Especially when you're not prepared to even use anyone's name. He showed me a letter from someone, but folded down the top and folded up the bottom so that I couldn't see who it was from.  Did he really think I was going to give a legal opinion on something I couldn't even see? Our conversation sounded like something from Abbott and Costello (think "who's on first").

In any event, the meeting was a complete waste of time. The client got nothing out of the meeting. All I got was a slight headache.

I've never understood the need to hold back important information from the very person you are hoping will protect you. Over the years I've met one or two clients who make a point of hiding facts from the lawyer. If the client is lucky, we quickly realize things are being held back. If the client is sadly unlucky, we don't realize it, and make documents or court appearances based on only part of the information needed. It never goes well for the client, as we haven't brought the right ammo for the battle.

Nobody can do their job with only half the information. If you ask a mechanic to fix your car's engine, do you hide the car and refuse to tell the mechanic what kind of car it is, even when he says he needs to order parts? Do you only expose the few inches of engine metal that you think is causing the trouble? Do you tell the mechanic he can only work with half the tools he needs? I doubt you'll drive away with your automotive problems sorted out, just as you won't leave the lawyer's office with your legal problems sorted out.

Why do people hide what's really going on? Is it to make themselves look better? Is it because they don't really want to admit to doing things that are petty or vindictive or idiotic? Come on, I've been in this business for so many years now, there is no way that your situation is the worst I've ever seen. And even if it were that bad, I'm not judging. Just be honest so I know what we're up against.

I know that clients sometimes have trouble believing that the information they tell the lawyer won't be told to anyone else. The lawyer's assistant will know some of it, if he or she has to prepare documents. Other than that, the lawyer doesn't tell anyone else. Not even his or her spouse. Clients find that hard to believe, but that's how we operate. Everything you say in your lawyer's office is confidential.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You might also like

Related Posts with Thumbnails