While the rural lawyer is expected to be something of a generalist, there is some wiggle-room in that definition – folks don’t expect a lawyer to do everything. On the other hand, the rural lawyer who refuses to work outside a particular speciality is in for some lean times. The trick is to find that balancing point between doing the stuff that interests you and doing enough of the stuff that small town clients need so that bills get paid, you get fed and your conscience lets you sleep at night.
I arrived at that balancing point by doing transactional work and ADR – there is something about the degree of conflict in litigated matters that just does not sit well with my belief system. Frankly, when I made the decision not to litigate, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t get clients – after all rural clients are a fairly conservative and traditional bunch and ADR might come across as a wee bit too much like tie-dye and love beads to them – but rural clients “get” ADR; though many were surprised to find out that it could be applied to areas other than union contract negotiations (many thanks TV news).
The thing I noticed most was that it became a lot easier to market my practice when what I did aligned with who I was. It was not just that the ol’ elevator speech sounded a bit more natural, the experience from first phone call to last meeting flowed better. Sure there are some clients that choose to go with the “full lawyer experience” and that’s OK – what’s right for me is not right for them. I do notice that the ones that do go with an ADR solution tend be surprised by the results – I often hear the phrase “our friends told us that their _____ was horrible, this isn’t all that stressful, are we doing something wrong?” It’s always nice to have to confirm that disputes can be settled with a minimum of conflict and that if they are getting the results they want, then they are doing everything right (personal validation, vindication and a paycheck all rolled into one).
My thanks go out to Bill Holbrook, the creator of “On The Fastrack“, for allowing me to use an image from his January 26th, 2012 strip and for reminding me that I’ve got that job.