The Lawyer as Counselor

Many lawyers – or at least some lawyers – or at least this lawyer – got into the profession because they wanted to help people. This help can be defined by many different roles, and accordingly the lawyer goes by many names (some of which are not fit for print here). But given all the various roles a lawyer may play, there are two names which is often fitting: “Advocate” and “Counselor.”

The Advocate lawyer is a familiar figure. Even for people who have never hired a lawyer before, we are acquainted with the Advocate by popular culture or occasional visits to jury duty. The legal Advocate is the one standing up for their client’s rights, in courtrooms and boardrooms, vigorously representing the hows and whys of their position. Good Advocates find law and facts to support their position, then apply or analogize them to a given situation, with the goal of helping their client.

The lawyer as Counselor is more subtle. Even those who know their lawyer as a Counselor often give them that name because of their reasoned legal advice has helped the client avoid hairy situations with employees, or make a particularly shrewd observation about a property’s value, or gain an upper hand in a tax strategy.

But there is another side of the Counselor which is extremely valuable to a client, and that is as a sort of casual therapist. This is the lawyer as consoler, trusted confidante, and sometimes just a plain old set of ears. Obviously, lawyers aren’t paid just to listen to their client all day; yet this is occasionally a collateral effect of the gig.

This post was inspired by a telephone conversation with a prospective client, whom I will call PC. PC’s story was a nightmare scenario. After suffering catastrophic damage to their property, they compounded the damage by relying on negligent advice, which ultimately caused them to lose in the first round of litigation against their insurer. Now PC was facing the opposing side’s attorneys’ fees, which they could not afford. So PC’s lawyer started a second round of litigation against the negligent party, to recover for the debts incurred in the first action.

But, as many litigators know, this can be a long process. Years later, the house is still in shabby shape, they lost their job, and are racking up credit card debt. Their former counsel had withdrawn and they were seeking a new lawyer. Years of litigation later, and they are no closer to achieving their goal than before. PC was distraught and understandably shaken.

I listened to PC’s story. I told them that disaster can be random. It often strikes those who don’t deserve it. I explained that I might be able to help, but even if I could not, that I would find a referral who could. PC was so grateful, and thanked me, simply for the fact that I was hearing them out. Just my listening, they said, was helping.

There is something so simple, and yet so profound, about that. I hadn’t even done anything to help this person, at least not legally. I am normally used to being thanked at the end of a matter, when we reach a final resolution and the client is grateful for my services. And yet, just by doing my job of conducting an intake call, that in itself helped.

There are so many reasons people may be stressed out when facing a legal challenge. It’s a mysterious process. You might be facing liability, with a lot of zeroes on the end. Perhaps your business hinges on the outcome of a case. Or, you don’t know how you are going to get through these half-dozen shell entities to get to the bad guy on the other side of the veil. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as being heard – if not in court, then at least by someone who can empathize with you and make you feel better.

You can’t win every battle. Sometimes the concern is well-placed, and the reality is unfortunate. But a good lawyer internalizes, re-focuses, and ultimately relieves clients of their stress. A good lawyer will not just be your Advocate, and try to get the best result possible. They will also be your Counselor. That’s how we help you.