We recently finished a civil jury trial in Hillsborough County. Fortunately, we can report that we achieved a successful result. Although it is often hard to measure success in this business, the jury awarded our client almost three times as much as the insurance company offered before the trial. Setting aside the stress on our client of the trial process, the statistical analysis comparing the jury verdict with the last settlement offer provides us with an objective measuring stick for grading our performance.
As I prepared for the trial, I found one witness’ testimony somewhat funny. Our case involved an accident in an area of a building open to the public. The facility manager did not have an office in the building. In a deposition before trial, I asked how maintenance issues at the property were addressed. For example, who changed the light bulbs? The witness reported that she needed to check with the facilities manager. I asked “who actually does the work?” The response—“she has an attorney that comes in and checks the bathrooms.” A little surprised by the response I said “I think you said an attorney.” She replied “I did. I did say that.” Needing to be sure I said “really.” The answer “yes.”
So what does this have to do with our value as lawyers. Unfortunately, much of what we do does not lend itself to objective analysis. Did the jury award more money than we were offered before trial? Are the bathrooms clean?
The work that we are privileged to do for our clients oftentimes has no measuring stick. Many times we are asked to help in times of crisis when even the best result is a bad result where we limit the consequences. At other times, we are involved in working toward a measurable goal like a purchase of property or a subdivision of real estate. When asked to describe what I do at family reunions I often begin by saying, “we try to help people solve problems.”
Although the measurement of ultimate success in a given matter may be hard to define, there are certain questions that we ask you to keep in mind. Did we set reasonable expectations for how your matter will proceed? Did we accurately describe your financial investment in the matter? Did we keep the matter on track and moving appropriately? Were we as responsive as you envisioned? Did we keep you informed? Did we bring value? How would you grade our performance? We would like to know.