Nobody Wants Debbie Downer in Initial Consultations

Debbie Downer for Law FirmsInitial consultations are an important part of most law firms. Potential clients meet attorneys about their cases. They want an attorney who can help them achieve their goals. Most clients come in knowing generally what they want.

Some attorneys, however, become naysayers who focus exclusively on worst-case scenarios. They instantly become pessimistic about what it is the client wants. They then turn that pessimism into being the bearer of bad news during an initial consultation meeting. This kind of pessimism does not lead to the attorney retaining many new clients. Yet, many attorneys who do this, do not even see it in themselves and cannot understand what it is they are doing wrong.  

A Saturday Night Live skit that really portrays this well is Debbie Downer. In one episode of Debbie Downer, Debbie meets her match when she sits at a table with Bob Bummer.  Both Debbie Downer and Bob Bummer have the same trait in common. They both like to dampen the mood by making negative comments that are entirely pessimistic. 

If there is something positive that is happening in any episode of Debbie Downer, Debbie never focuses on it. Instead, she instantly jumps to making negative comments, smirking and the wah-wah sound is then played. This negativity deflates the room so badly that people literally get up and leave. Every episode ends with Debbie Downer all by herself.  

The same thing happens when a lawyer plays the role of Debbie Downer (i.e. the naysayer) during an initial meeting. Potential clients literally get up and leave. While they might give an excuse for why they are leaving without hiring the lawyer (like they don’t have the money), they never come back.  

Some potential clients indeed come into the law office with what seems like a difficult case. It is true as well that a lawyer needs to point out the potential cons of any case.  At the same time, attorneys need to give potential clients IRAC answers to their questions where they also give the pros. What most potential clients need are even-handed assessments of their goals so that they can make an informed decision, not complete and utter negativity.   

It is also important to realize that no lawyer has a crystal ball. Thus, when an attorney first meets a potential client, it is just a first meeting. This means that there may be additional facts that the attorney does not know about yet that could impact the case. It also might be the case that nobody could predict with certainty what a judge or jury would do. 

In this vein, any attorney who has practiced long enough will also agree that there are some cases where their client came out substantially better than they ever imagined at the first meeting. There are also other cases where a client came out worse than what the attorney had originally thought.  

When a potential client is facing a legal matter, they need a lawyer to represent them no matter their situation. Lawyers can help any client through important legal matters. But lawyers who play the naysayer role of Debbie Downer (or Bob Bummer) do nothing but chase the potential clients away. These potential clients then end up being represented by another lawyer who was more even-handed in their assessment of the situation. For this reason, lawyers who need new business really need to keep their naysayer tendencies in check. 

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below. 


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