Most of the time, when someone hires legal counsel, they take a hands-off approach and trust that their lawyer knows how to best protect a client’s rights. Most clients do not have legal training, so they trust that individuals who went to law school and spent their careers practicing law would know best about how to handle a given legal matter. However, sometimes clients want to micromanage lawyers and review everything that a lawyer does. While micromanaging lawyers can sometimes lead to good outcomes, most of the times, clients should try to avoid micromanaging their counsel.
The only time in my life that I can recall the micromanaging of a lawyer going well was when a family member tasked me with keeping tabs on an attorney who was handling a legal matter for a relative. The lawyer who was working for my relative seemed very overworked, and he was less experienced than I was in the relevant area of law. I was able to stay on top of this lawyer and make sure that he corrected any errors and took steps that would help protect my family member’s rights. More than that, I also helped this lawyer conduct legal research, draft pleadings and motion papers, and respond to discovery requests. Having this oversight and additional people working on one file might have been the reason that this case settled on favorable terms without too much delay.
However, when a nonlawyer micromanages an attorney, there can be problems. One major issue is that it can cause delays in the decision-making process on a legal matter. For instance, I have heard that some clients want their lawyers to send them a draft of every email they wish their lawyer to send so that they can review the emails beforehand. Not only does this take a lot of time, the requirement can delay how long it takes for lawyers to get back to people. Moreover, there can be issues in the tone of an email if too many people have an influence on what is said.
Another practice of some clients is to want to review and comment on everything an attorney drafts that is sent to the other side. In some situations, this makes sense. Clients need to verify information in legal documents and supplement details that might not be correct. Clients are often much closer to the facts of a matter than attorneys, and it is completely fine if they want to review factual content.
But some strictly legal documents are often better left to legal staff to draft and revise. If a client looks too hard at certain legal papers, they may overthink some of the statements that are made in the papers, even though lawyers who have been practicing for a while know that certain language is commonplace. Moreover, if a client wants to review papers before the documents are finalized and dispatched, it might take longer for the documents to get served. Time is often of the essence in many legal matters, and adding another part of the decision-making process can slow down how fast it is to complete tasks related to a representation.
Another reason why clients should not micromanage lawyers is because this can lead to worse legal representation. Clients frequently consult the internet or friends for legal advice and think that they might have a successful claim or defense due to their research. However, even a lawyer with a small amount of experience in a given field can realize that this reasoning is flawed. Nevertheless, a client may want to pursue a strategy based on a flawed perception of their claims and defenses.
For instance, I once heard a story about a lawyer who was helping their friend with a landlord-tenant matter. The friend looked up some legal theories on the internet and thought that she had all kinds of claims based on protections that were given to tenants in that jurisdiction. The lawyer knew better, but the lawyer acceded to the client’s wishes to argue these points in conversations with the landlord.
The points were not well taken since the attorney could not be taken seriously since the lawyer was making claims that would be very unlikely to succeed in court. If the client had not meddled in the lawyer’s process, the attorney could have focused on the client’s strongest arguments, which could have been more persuasive to the other side. Just like people do not want to routinely micromanage doctors, folks should be wary of doing their own research and believing they can micromanage a lawyer to a better outcome.
Of course, there are some situations in which it might make sense to micromanage a lawyer, especially if the micromanager is a lawyer himself. However, in many instances, it is better not to micromanage legal counsel.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.