Fee earner

“And who is the fee-earner dealing with your matter?” asked the managing partner of a regional law practice. Let’s call him Peter to protect his identity.

Raising a concern

I’d been put through to him when I phoned to raise a concern. I wanted to find out why the person who said they would call me hadn’t called me. And why the person who said they’d call me after speaking to the person who was supposed to have called me also hadn’t called me. Nobody would call me when they said they were going to and, whenever I called the lawyer, they always seemed to be out – strange for a residential property lawyer, I thought. It was a property transfer that had started about 18 months previously, and my lawyer wasn’t explaining the most recent delay. To me, at least.

Just back from holiday

Peter’s words made me recoil, though he wouldn’t have seen this as we were on the phone. He spoke with a haste which suggested to me that he couldn’t wait to get me off the phone, which after only 5 seconds or so had felt a little premature. “I’ve just come back from holiday …” he went on to say, which explained his haste, perhaps.

Was I meant to care that he’d just got back from holiday. Was I supposed to feel sorry for him because of all the work piled up on his desk? I didn’t tell him that I was making the call from Sweden during my holiday, and could think of many other things I’d rather have been doing. I could have, but I didn’t.

Inconvenient clients

I drew a mental picture of a man in a hot office, with piles of work which he couldn’t cope with, having to deal with my complaint and wishing I would just let him get on with his FEE-EARNING work. I was clearly an inconvenient client.

Value your clients

If lawyers who use the term “fee-earner” when speaking to a client don’t realise what a derogatory term it is, then it may take more than a blog from me to make them think about it. And if you’re reading this and you don’t know what I mean, let me help. It means that it’s the earning of fees and not the provision of a professional service which is being used to define the relationship between the lawyer and their client. As clients, we want to feel valued for the instructions we provide, not for the bills we pay.

Some ideas to practice

So, Peter, next time you want to find out which of your colleagues is handling a client’s matter, try one of these: “Who is the member of staff/the lawyer/the person dealing with your matter?”. Practice three times a day for two weeks and I’m sure you’ll make the breakthrough. Oh, and don’t attempt to deflect a client’s problem by sharing with them one of your own. It will only make things worse.

See, that wasn’t too difficult was it?


I am Stephen G Anderson. I am a mediator.