How are you? So good to see you again.  It’s been so long?  When was the last time we…

Oh, wait.  No! Somebody lock that door! Don’t let him out! You guys, each grab an arm and sit him down in this chair.

[cc] Image – Spiterman

OK.  Calm down…  It’s alright.  No one is going to hurt you, BigLaw. You are surrounded by friends. Everyone in this room is here because we love you.  We care about you. And we’re worried about your well being. We’re afraid you may be a danger to yourself and to others. And we are holding this intervention because we want to help you.

Take a deeeeep breath…. Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiihhhh-hooooooooooooh.  OK?  OK.

Did you see the article in the NY Times Tuesday?

Hey!  Calm down.  The guy has a valid complaint. I know, I know, the asinine emails of a few immature associates do not represent the attitudes or opinions of most of your attorneys.  That’s good. They certainly should not. However, are they really just the attitudes of a few associates at one firm?  
Really?  Be honest.
Yes, I know.  The allegations are that they “churned”, not that they “padded” hours. Do you really want to argue that their actions were merely unethical rather than illegal?  I know that’s kind of your bailiwick, but I don’t think John Q. Public is going to really distinguish all that much. That’s the same argument that those guys at that BigEnergy company used a couple of years ago when they were caught manipulating California energy prices and bragging about it?  That’s not going to fly in the court of public opinion.
Let’s be honest BigLaw, people don’t really like you. I know, when they’re in trouble, they always come running, because you are good at your job, but they don’t like spending time with you, they don’t like talking to you, and they don’t trust you.  They mostly keep you around just to keep other people like you away.  I’m sorry, I know this is hard to hear, but it’s true.
That’s OK.  Go ahead and cry.  I know it hurts.  And yes, their jokes can be really cruel.  No, a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean is not a “good start”.  Hahaha, well… I’m sorry, it’s…it is a little funny.  No, you’re right, I should not have laughed. I truly… and sincerely… apologize. 
What’s that?  Yes, I saw what you said yesterday.  And that was a great start.  But let’s talk about what you didn’t say in that public response.
First, you didn’t take any responsibility.
Hey!  I know, they don’t represent… yes, but… but… but, they were your employees at the time!   Therefore, you are at least somewhat responsible for their actions. I’m not saying you should admit to encouraging their behavior, or to ever “churning” a client’s bill.  All I am saying is that it’s shameful to deflect all of the blame on to some stupid young associates who are no longer working with you. The idea that “none of those email’s reflect the firm’s culture” is laughable.  They may not reflect the culture you desire, or the culture you are striving to achieve, but clearly, to those people, working at your firm, writing those emails at that time, they did reflect your firm’s culture. You can’t force a culture on your employees, but if they feel it’s appropriate to make this kind of “joke” then there is something rotten in your culture. You need to look inward and fix what’s broken inside.
Secondly, you didn’t say “this will never happen!”
No, it doesn’t go without saying.  Go ahead, say it.  Yes now.
See, don’t you feel better?  Now try this one, “If anyone, from the Chairman of the firm to the newest paralegal, is EVER found to be ‘churning’ hours, they will be terminated with extreme prejudice immediately!”  No, that isn’t implied.  You said they left, you didn’t say why and you didn’t explicitly deny it would ever happen. Your clients are all extremely uncomfortable now, look at them.  They were already worried that you were over-charging them.  Now, you need to do something dramatic to reassure them that you’re not crooked.  Maybe become more open with your communication?  Make your billing more transparent? A little Legal Project Management done in conjunction with the clients might go a long way toward regaining their trust. Which leads me to number three.
In the NY Law Journal article about your non-apology response you were quoted as saying, “you wouldn’t sue a client if you ‘were not confident in the appropriateness of a bill.'”
Are you f***ing kidding me!?  Have you been hanging out with BigMusic and BigMovies again?
No, you should get comfortable…  I think we’re going to be here for a while…

Photo of Ryan McClead Ryan McClead

Ryan is Principal at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy specializing in cross-platform solutions and support.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for more than 15 years. In 2015, he was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, he was an Innovation Architect, Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, a Fashion Merchandiser, and Theater Composer, among other things.