THE EDUCATED CLIENT
By Tim Barkley. May 2016.
The lawyer nodded. “I think I understand your situation,” he said. “Here’s what I advise …”
Some time later, the client still looked uncertain. “Could you go over that again? I feel silly not getting it the first time through, but I really don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry,” replied the lawyer. “Let me try this … Here’s another way to look at it.” With a few quick pen strokes he sketched a flowchart on a legal pad. “It goes like this …”
“Oh!” exclaimed the client. “Now I get it. I’ve been reading about this on the Internet and going to seminars, and never got it. Now I understand!”
The light came on in the client’s eyes, that most satisfying sight to any planning professional seeking the reward of a client’s comprehension. Because an educated client is an empowered client, and a happy client.
This writer attended a continuing legal education conference at which a featured speaker described his response to his clients’ objection to incomprehensible documents: “If you could understand them, you wouldn’t need me!”
In a culture in which the portals of knowledge have been thrown open, lawyers are no longer priests paid to mediate between the layperson and the hazy jurisprudential denizens of the gnostic temple. Rather, today’s best attorneys impart wisdom, applying experience and knowledge to their clients’ unique life situations, helping their clients understand.
“I appreciate you spending so much time with me to help me understand this,” the client continued. “Can I call you if I have questions?”
“Certainly,” replied the lawyer, “and we can meet to go over everything before you sign, too. That way you’ll be sure you are comfortable with this before you are committed to it.”
“Can I bring my daughter Claudine with me to the meeting to review the papers? Sometimes I don’t remember so well anymore.”
“Absolutely, lots of clients bring ‘auxiliary memory’ to our meetings,” the lawyer smiled. “Just remember, though, that if anyone sues, you might lose the attorney-client privilege by having other people in the room.”
“I’m not worried about that,” the client rejoined. “I just want to be sure there’s somebody else who can help me remember.”
“No problem,” replied the lawyer. “It’s entirely up to you. Some clients even retain me for an hour to hold a ‘family meeting’ with all the kids to be sure everyone is comfortable with the situation.”
“I’ll think about that. It’s probably not necessary – my kids all get along, so we can meet at home after the holiday and go over everything together. We’ll call if there are questions Claudine and I can’t answer.”
The lawyer nodded his assent. “If anyone calls me asking questions, who can I talk to? Any of the kids, or just you, or just you and Claudine?”
“Just me and Claudine,” the client decided. “I don’t want my kids running my bill up!”
The lawyer’s eyes twinkled. “There is always that problem, isn’t there. Why don’t you take the flowchart home to show Claudine and the other kids. That might help answer a lot of questions – it certainly seemed to help you. And it’s easier to understand than thousands of words.
“And if you and Claudine have questions before our meeting, you can probably find articles about this in the knowledgebase on my website. I’ve been writing for the local paper for almost 20 years, and lots of the articles are searchable online.
“So I’ll see you in a couple of weeks, with Claudine, to go over everything, right?”
“Right,” affirmed the client. “And thank you again. I like the feeling that I understand what I’m doing, not just being told where to sign.”
The lawyer helped her out the door. “That’s important. That’s what I like – an educated client.”
Attorney Tim Barkley
The Tim Barkley Law Offices
One Park Avenue
P.O. Box 1136
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