Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Doctors and lawyers

My recent bout with flu, and the medical profession's utter inability to cure me, got me thinking.

Despite the huge gap between what they know and their pretensions to omniscience, despite their inability to do a whole lot to make us better about many or most of the things that ail us -- viruses, cancers, aging -- doctors are highly respected.

Lawyers, in contrast, who do about as much or as little to make their clients' lives better, are reviled.

I think it's all because doctors have successfully played the expectations game whereas lawyers have not. And I think I've discovered the trick.

Playing the expectations game is not simply about lowering a client's or patient's expectations about what you can do for them. It's raising and lowering them at the same time, so that you can avoid blame for the bad outcomes, but take credit for good outcomes that are not your doing.

For example, successful medicine usually means helping along the human body's own miraculous healing process. When a sick patient goes to a doctor and says, "doctor, heal me!" the doctor doesn't modestly respond: "I can't heal you -- all I can do is help your body's miraculous healing process." Instead, the Dr. nods sagely and says, "I can't make promises, but I'll do my best." And when the patient gets healthy again, he or she gives the doctor credit for the body's own miracle.

So here's what lawyers should do. We shouldn't just hold out the promise of winning (or not losting) money. We should build up the upside, while playing down the chances of reaching it.
I will take your case, Ms. Client. If we are successful, you will feel happiness and a sense of general well being. However, I have to be honest with you. The chances of that kind of success are not great. This legal procedure is very risky and most clients acheive at best partial, rather than complete, success. What's more, there's a long recuperation period. Even when the procedure is completely successful, many clients find that their immediate response is a feeling of disappointment, and that it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years to experience full happiness.
So basically, if the client is totally disappointed by the reality of the mixed results that attend most cases, but then in two to five years discovers happiness through meditation, or zen philosophy or a new love, the lawyer can say: "see? What did I tell you?"

Honestly, that didn't make me feel much better...

You have to remember too, that you don't have another doctor across the room trying to kill you.
You don't need the another doctor to try to kill you -- you have the disease doing that.
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