Published on:

Put off by four rules of a general counsel for law firms retained

A general counsel explained four rules law firms need to follow “to get and to keep us as a client.” (1) “Be extremely smart and know your subject matter.” (2) “Do perfect work.” (3) “Tell us the truth; we can handle it.” And (4) “Charge us the right amount for the project.”

These rules disgruntle me. Very few people are “extremely smart” and no one does perfect work. Most partners in law firms likely possess above average intelligence, but that is at best a wide notch below outstanding intelligence. Most professionals do good work, often very good work, but perfection is unattainable here on earth. Contrary to my experience, this high-standards general counsel writes in the ACC Docket, Oct. 2010 at 33 “There are lots of really smart lawyers out there with teams of associates who do perfect work.” Feels like an inflated Lake Woebegone effect.

These first two rules, nettlesome and exaggerated, perturb me less than the honesty rule. The example given of an “unvarnished truth” is when a partner confides that the company’s position in a law suit may be vulnerable. Such a truth! In litigation all positions have vulnerabilities, so the bombshell honesty feels false.

Worse, the undertone bothers me: law firm partners so commonly lack candor that one of only four rules needs to instruct them to tell it like it is. I have not heard the complaint that partners as a matter of course lie or twist the truth or fail to disclose important facts or conclusions.

Finally, the evident paradox of expecting brilliance to craft perfect work for the “right amount” makes me snort.