Back in my days at the insurance company, I would have to say the least favorite part of my job was conducting risk audits of our insured lawyers.
Typically, an audit was scheduled after a red flag had popped up. Perhaps it was a question about the application, or a problem with claims. Naturally, the company wanted to get a better handle on the risk it was being asked to insure, and so I was dispatched to investigate and report back.
Most attorneys were understanding and cooperative, even if they were somewhat less than thrilled to open their door and see my smiling face.
I had a pen and a checklist. We would talk and – depending on why I had been sent – I might want to look at their systems for calendaring important dates or preventing conflicts of interest. Usually the sessions were painless. Both sides wanted the relationship to work out.
Even so, these were rarely campfire sing-alongs. Nobody is giddy at the prospect of spending the day with an insurance auditor.
Occasionally, I would arrive to find the lawyer wasn’t even there. Audits were typically scheduled well in advance, but somehow this appointment had not made it onto the lawyer’s calendar, or it had been overlooked. Needless to say, this did not reflect especially well on the subject of the audit.
The Shingle Doesn’t Tell the Story
Once I visited a lawyer thought to be continuing to practice with a partner who had been disbarred. I could not have been received more graciously. I was shown a vacant office. The desk was indeed empty.
But what about the shingle outside with the disbarred lawyer’s name still on it? Nothing a little paint won’t fix. What about the letterhead? We’re getting new stationery printed.
Most lawyers understood this was business, and they didn’t take it personally. But I could tell some felt bad about being audited. This in turn made me feel bad. I was not there to judge them. I was just doing my job. I remember one lawyer wore a visor pulled low over his face during our entire time together, like a golfer or a gambler. I never once saw his eyes.
Some would go out of their way to convince me they were good lawyers. One presented me with a stack of glowing client testimonials. Another showed me a wall covered with plaques and awards. I would nod approvingly and make a note on my checklist.
Leaving Out the Back Door
Once I visited a solo attorney in eastern North Carolina. This lawyer practiced in a lovely old restored house with columns and a wide porch. I was shown into a sitting room that had windows from floor to ceiling. The receptionist went back to tell the attorney I was there, but when she returned she said he was not in.
This struck me as odd. Why hadn’t she known that earlier? And what about that other voice I could have sworn I’d heard back there?
“When do you think he might be available?”
“I’m not sure,” she said.
Just then I heard a door slam in the rear of the house, and seconds later gravel was popping outside. Through the window I saw a red BMW come tearing down the driveway. The gentleman behind the wheel wore a grim and panicky expression as he pulled onto the street and sped off.
“You’re welcome to wait,” said the receptionist, watching the getaway car disappear. “But I don’t think he’ll be back today.”
Clearly, this was not going well. I had run the poor lawyer out of his own office. On the bright side, the visit had ended sooner than expected, and an entire sunny afternoon lay ahead of me.
Jay Reeves has practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He enjoys road trips, campfire sing-alongs and checklists.
These days he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-619-2441.