Why your Oklahoma attorney is just like your Oklahoma plumber or electrician

What is the problem?

Sometimes clients simply can’t tell me what they want or what the problem is.  Not because they don’t want to, they may not have the words or in some cases the nerve.

It is a situation I find myself in when I operate far out of my area of expertise by going into areas like plumbing or electrical problems.  I am not handy or mechanical.  On a good day, I can change light bulbs with no shattered bulb or unexpected electrical shock.

The toilet is overflowing!

When we have serious issues at our house with the toilets, a faucet explodes as it did last summer in our home or a light won’t turn on, we call a professional.  I feel downright stupid sometimes talking with the plumber or the electrician.  I don’t know the names of the fixtures or parts and that makes it hard to describe the problem.  What I know is that a toilet isn’t flushing or filling or a light fixture is flickering.  With a good plumber or electrician asking questions eventually real or root problem is diagnosed and fixed.

Me as the plumber

I play the role of plumber or electrician to my clients well-meaning but lacking in knowledge homeowner.  My clients often know what the “problem” or “challenge” is:  the business needs to be sold, the lawsuit needs to be defended or the partnership needs to be ended.  What clients often do not know are specific steps to get to a solution and means to accomplish each step.

How I work with my clients

That is where I come in.  I try to work through several steps with all my clients to diagnose the problem and provide a plan for corrective action:

I listen to what the client says.  Not just because it is the client’s turn to talk but because I need to know what they have to say.  Not just the words, but the tone, the facial expressions, anything that will help me better understand what they are thinking and feeling.

I ask questions.  Questions about things I do not understand, questions about areas mentioned by a client but not elaborated on, questions about desired outcomes and levels of tolerance for the means used to reach the outcome.

I repeat and summarize.  I try to let the client know that I have listened and told them what my understanding of the problem is. This allows the client confidence in me and allows both of to make sure we are on the same page.

I analyze and present a plan.  I considered all the facts, the law, and my client’s desires and goals and come up with specific action steps to reach the goals.  Sometimes the specific action steps are simple:  review, analyze and comment on a proposed contract.  Some of the steps are more complicated: figure out a way to wind up a partnership that is no longer functional.

The end result

My goal is always the same:  help my client figure out the actual problem or challenge and the most efficient way to resolve it.  This is no different than any good plumber, mechanic or electrician.

Posted by Shawn Roberts

On this blog, I write about and try to answer practical Oklahoma legal questions. My focus and most experience is in estate planning and business issues including Oklahoma non-compete law. I make a living as an attorney in the law firm I founded, Shawn J. Roberts, P.C. in Oklahoma City. I live in Edmond with my wife Amy and my two children, Sam (19) and David (11). We live precisely in the path of where the "wind comes sweeping down the plains."