Be the Boss of your Doctor, Lawyer, and Financial Advisor

Mark Ford, Editor of the Palm Beach Letter, a distinguished investment letter, has published an article about how you need to make yourself the boss of any professional you hire, including your doctor, lawyer, and financial advisor.  It is below and worth a read when you need or want to hire a lawyer or any other professional.

In native cultures, medicine men wield power because of the community's belief that they have magical powers.   To reinforce their mystique, these crafty connivers invent words and phrases that their followers can't understand. The idea is something like: "If you don't understand what I'm saying, how can you doubt my power?"  Modern-world medicine men—brokers, doctors, and lawyers—do the same thing. Like their primitive predecessors, they often wield power over their clients by verbally intimidating them. Sometimes they do so to save time. By talking over their clients' heads (but with authority), they can often prevent their clients from asking questions that require long and complicated answers.   Sometimes, they use jargon to trick their clients into doing something that they would probably not do if they understood the business at hand. And sometimes, they speak cryptically to maintain what they view as a desirable superiority over their clients.   Now, before you send me angry letters about unfair generalizations I am making about some groups of professionals, I'd like to be the first to say that I realize that this sort of behavior is not ubiquitous. Not all doctors, lawyers, and brokers are verbal bullies. But, I have worked with many doctors and lawyers and brokers for a long time, and I can tell you this: verbal intimidation exists. It's so common that for many it is an essential professional tool. You should never let anyone verbally intimidate you. This is true for all your personal relationships, but it is also true for all your business relationships. Today, we are speaking about your professional relationships—the relationships you have with doctors, lawyers, and brokers. I used to allow brokers, doctors, and lawyers intimidate me. Whenever I used them, I acted like it was my job to please them…and not the other way around. When I talked with them, I was always on my best behavior…always grateful, always self-effacing. I felt that since I didn't understand medicine, law, or finance, I was in no position to tell them what to do. Nor could I evaluate the advice they gave me. I was a know-nothing. They were omniscient. All I could do was be a good boy and hope to be treated kindly. This was a very costly mistake. It induced me to undergo medical treatments, to spend big money on contracts that were overly complicated, and to make investments that I instinctively knew would never be profitable. It took me a long time—over twenty years—to get tired of being taken advantage of. I probably wasted more than a million dollars because I allowed myself to be bullied. Nowadays, I am diligent about standing up for myself with professionals. In every interaction I have with them, I remind myself that I am their boss and they work for me. If you think you might have the same problem I had, here are some ways you can gain control of all your professional relationships:  Change the way you think about professionals. Many people (consciously or not) put professionals on pedestals of reverence. They accord them respect and courtesies they don't give to plumbers, say, or other tradesmen. As a result, they are reluctant to question the advice they get, or worse, they feel compelled to follow it out of some sense of submissive gratitude.   The truth is, doctors, lawyers, and brokers are nothing more than tradesmen. They have knowledge and skills that they sell. To earn their fees, they must work hard and well for you.   Make yourself "the boss of you."  Promise yourself that, starting today, you will not let them bully you—and that you will actively and consciously "be the boss."  Rather than think, "Gee, he's such an expert," think, "I am paying this guy good money. He better prove to me he is an expert or I will fire him."  And when you get advice, instead of thinking, "I had better do what he says or he may be mad at me," think, "This guy may know his field of expertise, but he doesn't know me. I am the best and sole judge of what is best for me. Only I am qualified to decide what I should do."   Evaluate the professionals you are using.   Think of the professionals you work with and rate them according to the following three criteria:  1. Do they make you feel like you are in charge? A good professional relationship is one where the client is the boss and he feels like the boss. You should be able to figure out how you feel about the professionals that you use instantaneously. If you don't feel in charge, then you aren't.   If you don't feel you can speak frankly about any fears and concerns you have, then you are not in charge. If you don't feel free to criticize them, then you are not in charge. Here's what you need to understand: the only way you can feel like the boss is if the professional feels like you are the boss. If he doesn't—if he thinks you are just another schmuck who needs his help—then you will never be in charge. 2. Do they give you advice that is easy to understand?   A good professional feels obliged to communicate clearly with his clients. That means translating the arcane language of his profession into advice that can be readily understood.    

You can determine whether your broker, doctor, or lawyer has a commitment to communication by asking: Do I feel like I spend enough time with him? Or do I feel like he is usually busy and I'm taking up his precious time?  When he sends you documents, does he often attach a cover letter that explains, in layman's terms, what the documents say? Do you frequently feel lost or confused when he gives you advice? This should rarely happen… and when it does, you should feel free to ask questions and get clear, understandable answers. Do you feel that way?  3. Do they understand and care about your concerns and needs?  A good professional doesn't treat all his clients exactly the same. He understands that each has his own specific concerns, worries, problems, and needs. A good professional takes time to understand this and tailors his advice accordingly.   If you feel like you are getting cookie-cutter advice, or if you feel like he doesn't really care who you are, then he is not doing his job.  

What to Do to Make Things Right  How do you now feel about the professionals who are working for you? Are you feeling a bit upset? Have you realized that you may be getting less from them than you deserve? If so, here's what I suggest. Call or email the offending party and say you want to have a 15-minute meeting about your "professional relationship." If they ask why, say that you want to talk about whether "the value I'm getting is worth the money I'm paying."

If he refuses to have the meeting, then you don't need to put another thought into it. He isn't doing his job. Get rid of him. If he does give you a meeting, go in prepared. In just a few simple sentences (that you have prepared beforehand), tell him exactly how and why you are unsatisfied. Don't be judgmental. Express your concerns as statements of your future expectations. In other words, don't say, "You talk in an intimidating way." Say, "I want crystal-clear explanations of all your advice and full and clear answers to all my questions. Can you provide me with that?"  That's really all you have to do. If you end up "firing" someone, don't spend a moment regretting it. Just go out and find someone new and better. And find that person by interviewing them. In the first meeting, list your expectations and ask them if they can meet them. Be the boss. It is your body, your business, and your money.

Thank you for the notes…I like all the thoughts you added about the employment agreements.  Thanks again for all your help."

Who We Are:

Image of Bruce Leonard Beal

The present firm arose from Bruce's move from the Los Angeles area to Dana Point, where he and his wife wanted to live since they first  discovered it. 

Bruce comes from the Senior Counsel position in a large world class international technology, engineering and construction corporation with thousands of employees, hundreds of large clients, world class projects, hundreds of affiliates, and complex transactions and litigation.  Before that, he gained significant major law firm experience, including arguments before state appellate and supreme courts.

His desire in moving to Dana Point was and still is to bring his world class experience to smaller and emerging businesses in the area.  This experience produces more valuable legal and business judgment from him than is available from newer attorneys or attorneys whose practices are more specialized and localized.  His extensive Resume is here Résumé

Marlene wears all hats other than "Lawyer" in the firm,  including Paralegal, Marketing, Accounting, and Office Management and Assistance. Her extensive Resume is here Résumé.

Notice: The purpose of this article is to provide information, rather than advice or opinion. It is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of the date of the article. I have no duty to update this article. The information, examples and suggestions presented in this article have been developed from sources believed to be reliable. This article should not be viewed as a substitute for the guidance and recommendations of a retained professional and should not be construed as legal or other professional advice. In addition, I do not endorse any actions addressed herein, unless they are produced or created by me.  I recommend consultation with me or other competent legal counsel and/or other professional advisors before applying this material to any particular factual situations.