Thursday, August 14, 2008

In over your head?

One of the things I talk most about with clients is how to respond when their first thought is "this is something I don't know anything about."  Usually the feelings that accompany the thought are fear and overwhelm, which just makes it worse. The fact is, if you have a process to handle new-to-you issues, you're going to be just fine.

What do you do when your client's issue is not really your area of expertise?

Patrick Begos posted a great answer on the solosez listserve, here it is:

 Here are my rules of thumb for this type of quandry:

1. If the new matter is relatively simple, and not incredibly time sensitive, I'm not concerned about taking it on, even if I know almost nothing about it at the beginning. One thing we lawyers do is learn law and procedures. So, for example, though I do almost no transactional work, I wouldn't be concerned about doing a residential closing for someone (I'd rather shoot myself than do a residential closing, but I'm confident I COULD do it)

2. If the matter is more complex, but related to an area I know something about, I probably wouldn't be concerned about doing it myself. For example, in the litigation world, I often take on cases in new areas. I started learning copyright law when I got my first copyright case. I started learning lending law when I got my first banking case. I started learning ERISA when I got my first employee benefit case.

If you're a transactional attorney, you have the transactional skills, and you know how to draft solid documents. You should be able to figure out what issues are key in a new type of transaction. Use your judgment here. If you're terrified at the thought of doing this new thing without a net, then don't do it. If you feel up to the challenge, then do it.

3. If the new matter falls outside of those areas, I'd probably either try to find someone to co-counsel or mentor with, or to refer it to.

Find out more about Patrick and his firm at Begos Horgan & Brown LLP.

The bottom line is that you've already proven you can figure out what to do in unfamiliar situations; you have a lot of experience to draw on. Remember what got you to the point where you have a client ready to put his/her trust in you - and be confident.

Fear is a waste of time and energy. Use your judgement, use Patrick's rules of thumb, and get on with it. Who knows, you just might have a brilliant new perspective!