Resist the temptation to take on work one is not qualified to do

People under economic pressure will do things they would otherwise never do.  Many will do things that in hindsight they will wish they had never done.  Profound Regret is anticipating a banner year.

One of Profound Regret’s target markets is the legal profession.  Just as credit card companies and other lenders used to extend credit without regard to the borrower’s ability to pay, Profound Regret is already tempting lawyers to take on work they are not qualified to do. 

In the law who is qualified to do what is a question that receives little attention.  At one end of the spectrum is the sometimes unfounded belief that any lawyer can figure out how to competently represent any client in connection with any matter.  All one has to do, so the thinking sometimes goes, is to use one’s legal training, do the necessary research and exercise competent professional judgment.  Often that is a reasonable approach to take.  Very often it is not.  The surest way to lose money and to risk one’s reputation -to say nothing of becoming a defendant in a malpractice  action – is to delude oneself into believing one is or can become competent to handle a matter.  Profound Regret thrives on such delusions.

Nothing frustrates Profound Regret more than a lawyer who puts her client first.  Lawyers who listen carefully to a potential client, talk patiently with that client, think through what the real problem is and what the realistic ways of handling it are and who then asks herself, “Who is best able to serve that client and how, if at all, can I help?” provide no sustenance for Profound Regret.  They provide a great deal of sustenance to Integrity and to Peace of Mind.  And of course such lawyers do what they are supposed to do: they put the client first.

Arguably the most important part of representation – the most valuable service a lawyer can offer – occurs in the beginning:  understanding the problem, identifying realistic paths to a solution and making available to the client, either personally or through referral, the legal expertise (the affordable legal expertise) appropriate to the situation.  In medicine that process is called making a diagnosis.  Lawyers ought to adopt that concept.  In medicine there is nothing more important than an accurate diagnosis.  The same is true in law.

What should one do when (not if) one recognizes that a client would be better served by another lawyer?  The answer is, or should be, obvious:  make a referral.  But there can, and should be, more to it than that. First, recognize that making a first rate referral is itself a valuable professional service for which, depending on the circumstances, one should be entitled to reasonable compensation.  Second, consider whether one can play a valuable role after the referral, a role that adds value for which one is entitled to reasonable compensation.  Circumstances make all the difference.  Sometimes referrals involve nothing more than a phone call.  Other times they involve much more.  Sometimes the referring lawyer plays a valuable screening role, gathering important information that will be reliable and useful to the lawyer to whom the matter ends up being referred.  And sometimes the relationship between intake lawyer and client is so strong that the intake lawyer can serve as an effective and cost saving link between client and the lawyer to whom primary responsibility is transferred.

Deciding that one is not qualified under the circumstances to handle a particular matter (or that one is not qualified to handle a matter by oneself) does not mean that one necessarily forgoes the opportunity to be reasonably compensated.  Put the client’s interests first. Expect reasonable compensation for exercising your best professional judgment on behalf of a client.  Recognize the value of a contributing to a correct diagnosis.  Recognize the value of and the limits of one’s competence.  Be of service to everyone who asks for your professional help and send Profound Regret away.