I’ve experienced this question in many forms. This is the most recent iteration that comes to mind. I think the question is driven by a cornucopia of factors, among which are public perception, media stereotypes, elitism among some attorneys, and the fact that lawyers are frequently compared to medical professionals. I’ve never gone to the doctor’s office and hoped to hear the physician tell me that they needed to do some research and they’d get back to me in a week or two give or take. I want answers. Immediately. We all do. And surely, once we are in the position of being asked for answers, there’s a pressure to meet the expectation in order to preserve the perception of being a source for answers. The thing is, sound lawyering simply does not jive with this approach.
Let’s walk through the lawyering process. Once law school is finished, hypotheticals are replaced by real people with real issues, priorities, and agendas. People know what they want, and they come to you because they believe that you are looking for a lawyer who can help them get what they want. Should you take them on as a client, your responsibilities extend far beyond just getting someone what they want. You actually need to understand their wants, their needs, their priorities, and their ultimate end goal as it applies to the attorney-client relationship you’re engaging in. Doing just one of the activities in the above sentence well requires extensive intellectual effort and professional skill; sustaining each of these activities over a prolonged period of time for multiple clients requires compassion, commitment, and drive over the long haul. Does a lawyer who does these things sound to you like an answer-person? They don’t sound that way to me.
Here is one way to respond to the question:
A lawyer’s job is to understand what a client needs, and help their client achieve their needs and therefore protect and facilitate their client’s interests in a way that is consistent with the law.
A client who comes to an attorney thinking that all they want is an answer and nothing more is really asking for a tremendous amount of work on the part of their attorney. They are asking their attorney to understand them, ensure their needs are met, identify their often conflicting priorities, protect their interests, and to do so while regularly responding to questions and concerns that the client voices throughout the attorney-client relationship. The client is asking the attorney to unwrap, unravel, dissect, and analyze the issue(s), research and apply the appropriate legal standards and precedent, and then provide direction and instruction for the client designed to uphold the law and further the client’s objectives.
It’s not a lawyer’s job to have the answers. It’s a lawyer’s job to find the intersection between a client’s agenda and the law. That’s part of what law-yer’s do. Law-yer, not Answer-yer.