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This one thing might be keeping someone you know from getting help they need.

When people come to me, they often have very specific ideas about what it means to hire an attorney and the services an attorney can provide to them. Often, they got these ideas from TV or from a cousin who works in Silicon Valley (no joke). Usually, they’re not wrong in the sense that often the service they’re looking for does exist, at least conceptually.

For example, Mary came to me wanting to file a lawsuit against Joan, who was bullying her at work. She knew what Joan was doing was targeting her individually and that it was inappropriate behavior for Joan to engage in at work. Joan was making Mary’s life hell. Mary walked in proposing that we sue Joan individually and Mary’s employer for defamation and discrimination. She explained to me that what was happening was wrong and Joan needed to be held accountable. She at least wanted to have an attorney send Joan a demand letter telling her to cease and desist from her bad behavior.

Many attorneys will file lawsuits, and many attorneys will send demand or cease and desist letters. Some will do that any time you pay them to do it. Most, though, will only do it if they think it will help you somehow. Mary was doing the right thing in the sense that she was taking action to get help, but here’s where she was going wrong and what she could do differently to make sure she gets the help she needs:

Mary was presenting me with a narrow set of solutions she thought were best. She had already limited her options ahead of time, rather than treating me as a potential expert she could work with and asking what solutions I would offer.

Because she did not have a legal claim that would have helped her or resulted in money, lawyers said they would not write a letter or file a lawsuit. Because she had such a narrow view of what help could look like, when she heard that a lawyer would not write a letter or file a lawsuit, she gave up. She concluded that no one could or would help her.

The truth was, there are many people who could or would help her, but she was prescribing her own surgery. I’ll make the analogy like this (borrowed from Dr. Angela Lauria): If you were experiencing shoulder pain, would you go to the doctor and say, “I’m going to need you to perform rotator cuff surgery?” Hopefully not. You are going to the doctor as an expert to solve your shoulder pain problem. If the doctor prescribes physical therapy, you can decide not to follow the prescription or not. You can get a second opinion.

But, any doctor who performs rotator cuff surgery on demand is probably not the doctor you want working on you. If you go to enough doctors and ask them if they will perform rotator cuff surgery, you might find one who will

In the same way, sometimes a lawsuit or a demand letter is one part of an appropriate remedy for your problem, but other times it is not. Many attorneys are only able to offer a lawsuit or a letter, and if you present your problem to them, they may recommend that. For some problems, a lawsuit or a demand letter are not the right option. That doesn’t mean there is no answer to your problem. It means you may need to look somewhere else.

My clients come to me with a problem – they are facing discrimination or harassment at work – and they are ready to do everything they can to get a solution. They want to do work they love without the stress and fear of being harassed. And I want to get them to that life – whether it takes a letter or something else. I am an expert at doing whatever it takes to get them there. They don’t need to be the expert on what the solution is, and if I can’t help, I will tell them. If they want a different solution, they can continue talking to other experts. There are plenty of solutions to our problems if we look for them.

The best tip I can give for talking to a lawyer or life coach and getting real help is to describe your problem and let the expert prescribe a solution. You don’t have to take the solution, but they are the expert, and if you really want to solve the problem, why wouldn’t you rely on someone who has done it before?

Why decide ahead of time that solutions are narrow? Sometimes we do that because we are unconsciously comfortable feeling stuck or because we don’t believe we deserve a solution. But, what if we knew there was a way to solve the problem? What if we always believed problems were worth solving?

There are always ways to solve a problem and make life better. What is holding you back from talking to an expert about your problem?


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