Problem solving in a crisis – the general practice lawyer

This week, I was reminded of the value the general practice lawyer’s experience and perspective can bring to clients in crisis.

Even though we’re there to deal with the varied legal aspects of a crisis, and not to provide personal support, I notice our clients are very comforted by what we do.

It’s worth dissecting this a bit, so, here’s my analysis of what we do, and why it works to provide comfort.

  • We listen attentively, and with empathy, but also with a bit of professional distance.  We’re not drawn into the whirlpool the crisis creates, and this means we can provide a way out.
  • Our questions help people get their thoughts in order.  Because we need some precision and clarity in our instructions, we probe a little, finding the sequence of events.  This seems to help people create some order in the chaos
  • We help prioritise.  What’s important?  What’s urgent?  For a client in crisis – it’s everything. But our knowledge, of how different legal processes work alongside each other, provides order and structure about what happens next.  Not everything is dealt with at once, there are a series of steps and we set them out one by one.

It’s also worth remembering that we deal frequently with situations our clients face only rarely.  This seems to provide reassurance – we’re not shocked, we don’t judge, and we know there’s a way out.

Many professionals have a role in a crisis, and all bring something important.   As lawyers, of course our legal work will be critical,  but it’s our approach to problem solving that provides reassurance and comfort.  

The general practice solicitor

Half of the population experiences a legal problem in any one year. Only half of them ever seek any sort of advice. That is surprising.

But what is shocking, is that of those who do seek advice for a legal problem, only around 30% seek advice from a lawyer. The rest ask other people: friends and family, and some professionals like financial advisors and doctors.

Why don’t they ask the expert who could help? A range of reasons it seems, but mostly because we’re hard to find, and they’re worried we’ll cost too much.

If only there was someone you could go to, whom you could trust – to listen, work out what needs to be done, help you assess whether it was worth doing anything, and then put a plan in place to help – like your GP doctor for health problems.

There is a professional like that – the general practice solicitor.

In a time of increasing specialisation in legal practice, there is more need than ever for general practitioners who know how all the specialist pieces fit together, and can be the starting point for any legal issue.

We can help you with most of the common legal issues that arise everyday for individuals and small businesses. Like your GP doctor, one of our core skills is diagnosis. We work out what sort of legal help you need. If we can help you, which we can for most common problems, we do. But we also recognise when you need specialist help, and we can refer to you to specialists we have confidence in.

It is our ethical duty to put the client’s interests first – this provides tangible value. If we don’t think your legal issue is worth pursuing, we’ll tell you that and save you time, money and stress.

I think it’s also our duty to do more to make sure people with legal problems can find us when they need us.

That’s why, now I am back in legal practice, I’m committing to writing regularly about general practice lawyering – so more people understand what we do, and the value we can bring when next they have a legal problem.

Elizabeth returns to the firm

After spending 2021 as President of the Queensland Law Society, Elizabeth Shearer has now returned to the firm full time. This means she will once again be available for all client work.

“I really enjoyed the year as QLS President”, Elizabeth says “It was a busy and very interesting year, but I am looking forward to returning to the firm and being more available to my clients.”

Elizabeth will continue contributing to the Queensland Law Society as Immediate Past President, and is pleased to take up a new role, at a national level, as an elected member of the Law Council of Australia.

About Shearer Doyle Law

Shearer Doyle Law is a law practice in Brisbane. Bruce Doyle and Elizabeth Shearer established Shearer Doyle Pty Ltd in 2013 to provide practical, individually tailored solutions for people with legal problems.

We act for clients directly, but we also act as independent experts retained to resolve part of a case. This may be alongside the Court Process or instead of going to Court.