The following post was originally written in response to a question posted on LinkedIn.  The original post is quoted as originally written with only the name of the poster removed.

What complications do you experience in helping clients solve problems?

If you are a professional service provider, either internal or external, you help clients (or prospective clients) solve problems. I’m curious what complications you have experienced. Client won’t make a decision? Client ignores your advice (or your advice wasn’t clear)? Client didn’t give you all the relevant information (or you didn’t ask the right questions)? Client didn’t consult you until too late? etc., etc.

I’m developing a workshop and want to touch on as many real issues as I can. The more detail you can give me about your situation the better. Feel free to enter a general response here (so others get the benefit of your ideas) and contact me directly with more specifics if it’s a long story. Please be sure to include what profession you are in. Thanks!

The biggest obstacle to to helping clients “solve problems” is the client who doesn’t want to “solve a problem” but who wants help driving a preconceived end result. Sometimes this takes the form of the client who needs to “win” something to satisfy some psychological itch, and other times it takes the form of a client who thinks they need ___________ to accomplish something they haven’t really thought out and may not fully understand.

To use the old sales example, people who are shopping for drills don’t need a drill, they need a hole. The drill is just their best formulation of how to go about getting that result. Don’t tell me you want a corporation, tell me what your business is, who’s going to finance it, and what you think need to protect or be protected from. Don’t tell me you need to sue XYZ Corp., tell me what the problem is, what you are trying to accomplish and what conversations have occurred to date. Don’t tell me you need to file Chapter 7, tell me about your debts, assets and other financial concerns. You don’t walk into a doctor’s office telling him that you need an appendectomy, you walk in saying that your have a pain in the gut.

The other obstacle is that most lawyers don’t understand that their job is to solve problems, not create them. (I believe that’s a function of the inane hourly and contingent fee billing system we have but that’s another topic.) Two talented, experienced and creative lawyers who are interested and motivated to solve their respective clients’ problems fairly and efficiently can dispose of most disagreements and arguments fairly fast. But if one of them believes that his job is to “win” something, then we’re all stuck in the mud for a very long time.

Ironically, one of my best tools I can hope for in helping my client solve a problem is a smart lawyer on the other side. And if the other guy’s client is smart too? Most of the time that means things can go very smoothly.

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