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September 03, 2009


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Great post! Money quote: "We are more worried about US (being liable, being bothered, whatever)than we are about building a relationship with YOU." That's exactly what these practices say to prospects/visitors.

Vickie Pynchon

Lawyers are among the most cautious professionals in the world. They -- particularly those of us who prosecute and defend civil litigation -- see potential liability everywhere.

Not only is this our JOB (to advise our clients on potential liabilities) but because we primarily see business relationships gone bad (like doctors who see only people with cancer or cardiac disease) we're on the paranoid side.

I was a paralegal for Uniroyal's "captive" law firm in New York before I went to law school (this was the mid-'70s). I sat outside the door of the lawyer responsible for vetting Uniroyal's advertising. He was always shouting and hitting his forehead with the palm of his hand and pacing in his office ranting about the company's apparent desire to steer its ship into the frigid North Atlantic where the Titanic would encounter icebergs sufficiently sizable to sink Uniroyal's ship.

As a conflict resolver, I know that you have to start moving people from the place they are at (worried about liability) and treat their concerns as serious and legitimate. Then I have to create a sense of safety for them if I am going to successfully move them past their positional comfort zone into the realm of interest-based negotiation.

The psychologists call this the "zone of proximal development" - it is boundary line infants cross when they go from "ba, ba, ba" to "ball ball" to "BIG ball" and finally to "BIG BLUE BALL" with the mother clapping her hands in delight every time the baby moves closer to the goal.

Mothers and infants are the most efficient and effective learning dyad in the world. Mothers do this reflexively, always encouraging, always creating a sense of safety and always with the reward of a mother's delight.

Now, I'm no mom. But I do read books. And I shepherd litigators and their clients beyond their resentments, fears, and rage against their opponents on every working day. You cannot enter the room and say "o.k., you need to get over this; move past it; think about litigation costs and settle with your opponent."

You (I) have to listen to the anger and the fear, acknowledge it, and suggest a small movement in the direction of the other. That's what all service providers have to do. Litigators and their clients are my WORK, not obstacles to my work. The same is true for people who help lawyers move past their fears of liability on what looks like an anarchic online world, free of the restrictions they're used to advising their clients to impose for maximum liability protection.

All that said, I agree with you completely (as you know since I'm one of the anonymous attorneys you consulted with) but I no longer practice law and do not give legal advice anymore. So I am cautious, as well, about giving legal advice online. I am simply sharing my experience and, I hope, a little wisdom, because after 50, we're all in the wisdom business!

Great post. Let's be gentle with lawyers who are as inexperienced with the internet as an infant is with the description of the thing he loves to play with - the BIG BLUE BALL!

Michelle Golden

Thanks Vickie, you have provided excellent food for thought (and action). Your analogy is terrific. I am not _always_ this rough on my lawyer friends. I do get a little frustrated at times (this was one!).

Mere, appreciate your comment, too. :)

I received an email, also from lawyer-pal Pat Lamb who reminded me of his (FABULOUS) approach to his own disclaimer page. This is truly one of my faves:

"Saw your post on disclaimers—they are such BS. I did a special version for Valorem—check it out: http://www.valoremlaw.com/disclaimer.html"

Thanks Pat! And, yes, you rocked it.

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