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Savvy clients reject wordy legal advice

Savvy clients reject wordy legal advice

The lawyer's wordy legal advice, handed to clients as inch-thick dissertations, is under threat.

THE lawyer's wordy legal advice, handed to clients as inch-thick dissertations, is under threat.

Once the domain of the thorough law firm-employed lawyer, long-winded and legal-jargon packed advice is being purged by many clients and lawyers, replaced by a new type of legal advice. 

Economy-bruised clients are demanding efficient and pithy executive summaries that are commercially eloquent and business focused, top legal eagles are claiming. 

Freehills partner Michael Vrisakis, who works in the firm's financial services and insurance practice, says the days when lawyers wrote formal advice on letterhead paper, sprawling pages and detailing legal lexicon and legislation, are over.  

"I was recently giving some advice to a client and there was another entity wanting to invest in this clients. They asked for a copy of the advice. But when I gave it to them they said 'no we want the real advice, not the cut down advice'. I can only think their lawyers' usual style is in excess of 15 pages, and mine was a four page memorandum as the client had wanted," he said today. 

"So it really struck me that from my perspective there is a lot more focus and interest by clients in having shorter and more distilled advice."

Vrisakis said that while lawyers will always cater advice to particular clients, in the past legal counsel would have accepted the various provisions of the law being cited to them, now they're saying 'we know what the provisions of the Corporations Act are, distill down the issues and tell us what to do'". 

John Chisholm, a former Middletons chief executive who now runs a business advising law firms on practice management, said clients often want just a punchy executive summary. 

This move to more pithy, summarised advice can also go against the grain for many lawyers, said Chisholm. "Lawyers sometimes suffer from the affliction where the advice they give is not understandable. The private practice lawyer may be thinking the client wants a thesis, but that is not always the case," he said. 

"Many times this search for excellence and perfection is we we as lawyers want, and I was the same. We needed to cover off everything. Dot every 'i' and cross every 't'. But things are changing. It still has to be accurate of course," he said. 

But many law firms will resist this move because it raises problems with time-based billing. 

The concept that the shorter the advice the less time billed may leave some firms wanting to give long-winded advice. But, being a staunch opponent of time-based billing, Chisholm said firms need to ask their clients what sort of advice they want, and work out a billing method accordingly. 

Clients appreciate that there is a lot of work behind the scenes, said Vrisakis. "Sometimes it takes more time to distill things into that channeled form. But clients are repeatedly saying 'we don't want a thesis'," he said. 

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