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Curses and Blessings of Over-Thinking

Why over-thinking can be more trouble than it’s worth.

In the course of discussing possible solutions to a problem, I suggested to a managing partner not to over-think it. The response was, “But I must over-think it; I’m a lawyer.

Over-thinking can be more trouble than it’s worth. It can result in hours billed to a client that varies from absurd to obscene and is exactly the type of behaviour that can make a client furious.

The best way to curb over-thinking is thorough and crystal-clear communication from start to finish. Communication begins with listening carefully to what the client says, and asking probing questions to make certain everyone is clear on the issues and expectations.

Discuss in detail from the outset – and as the matter progresses – how the client will qualify success and determine value. Their answer might not be what you expected. Success could be as simple as not exceeding a budget, getting a matter completed before the client’s financial year-end, or well in advance of a Board meeting, Annual General Meeting, or some other occurrence with a non-elastic deadline.

Once you clearly understand how a client will define value, you should be good to go while continually taking the initiative to check in and compare notes as you move through the process together.

Discussing success as the matter progresses is crucial. This is because issues and agendas can change in a finger snap, and you’ll need to be aware of these factors to avoid unpleasant surprises and keep everyone’s expectations balanced, including your own.

It’s pretty much a given that lawyers tend to exercise their “worry muscles.” The caveat is that if you must engage in over-thinking, do it on your own time and dime. In doing so, it’s very okay to let the client know that they’re on your mind while you’re off the clock.

Over-thinking in this fashion adds tremendous value since the client will appreciate that you’re going the extra mile to safeguard their interests. This is the kind of meaningful added value that impresses clients and that they appreciate. Best of all, “over-thinking for free” literally costs both you and your client nothing, and doing so provides you with the huge return of continuing to earn and keep your client’s trust.

Heather Suttie is an internationally recognized legal market strategy and management consultant to leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide.

For 25 years, she has accelerated performance within law firms and legal service businesses — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — by providing consultative direction on legal business strategy, market strategy, management strategy, and client strategy. The result is a distinctive one-of-one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage culminating in greater market share, revenue and profits.

Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or

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