Sunday 6 September 2009

Engineers or insurers?

One way of comparing lawyers is to classify them as "engineers" or as "insurers": engineers try to set up a contract, transaction, etc, that suits the agreed requirements of the client; insurers tend to use an established precedent that is designed to cover all possible circumstances, avoiding the risk of omitting something not currently foreseen but possibly required in future.

I tend to be an "engineer": I try to look after my clients as if they are close friends or family members:
• I give punchy, practical, jargon-free and actionable help
• I aim to keep clients' legal difficulties and expenses to a minimum
• I use my knowledge to benefit my clients

The "insurer" type instead (in my view) tells the client "not to worry about the law", and uses a "blockbuster" precedent intended to smother the problem rather than engineer a solution.

The engineering style is, in my view, better for the client and more enjoyable (though also more testing and, perhaps, risky) for the lawyer - I suppose its a case of quality -v- safety

This distinction is particularly clear in the context of -

(a) leases: in my view, as long as it covers the client's requirements, less is more: a 10-page lease that the parties can understand is (in my view) better than a 50 page lease (covering everything including lift maintenance in a ground floor lock-up shop) that the clients treat as an un-readable brick

(b) enquiries before contract on leases and property purchases: using wide-ranging standard enquiries before contract sometimes means more salient points are overlooked

(As an aside, the distinction between engineer lawyers and insurer lawyers brings to mind Kingsley Amis's classification of two distinct groups in debates over the use of language: berks and wankers. "Berks are careless, coarse, crass, gross and of what anybody would agree is a lower social class than one's own; wankers are prissy, fussy, priggish, prim and of what they would probably misrepresent as a higher social class than one's own" - Not one to hold back, old Kingsley!)

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