“That’s not what I tell them because that’s not what they want to hear,” she said—out loud—at dinner.

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She explained that they wanted to pursue custody and that they were going to do it regardless of what she said. She had already concluded that it was pointless to tell them what she thought of them, their case, or their chances.

She decided to let them pay her to handle the case rather than pay someone else. She explained that she’s “not in the business of telling people to go buy it from someone else.”

I’ll admit to having had those same thoughts from time to time. I like to think I’m smart enough not to say them out loud, especially to people I don’t know that well. But that’s what she did. We heard it all at full volume.

I can understand where she’s coming from. She’s in business to support her family. The last thing she wants to do is chase away a fee.

Should You Hide the Ball?

I’ve found myself in that spot many times.

However, I usually haven’t kept my thoughts to myself.

Maybe it’s my contrary nature. Maybe it’s that some people just annoy the crap out of me. Maybe I’m just trying to do the right thing. I’m not sure why I do what I do. But here’s what I do:

I tell them what I think regardless of whether it’s what they want to hear.

I tell them when they’re doing something stupid.I tell them when I think they’re pursuing something pointless.I tell them when I think they’re doing what they’re doing for all the wrong reasons.I’ll even tell them that I think they’re behaving badly and ought to know better.

The first few times I did it, I worried. I wondered what would happen, but I couldn’t stop myself. My mouth went rogue.

Over time, I came to understand that being brutally honest almost always paid off. Isn’t that amazing?

What Happens When You Tell the Truth

I figured out that I could say the right thing and still make money.

Sometimes we did what they wanted anyway, but they understood what I thought and why it wasn’t likely to work.

More often, they came to their senses. They needed someone to tell them the truth. Often, they came back later to do something sensible. Many times, they referred their friends.

My approach—and I suggest you consider it as well—is to tell them the truth. Tell them what you think regardless of whether they ask you. Tell them when they’re doing something wrong that’s going to hurt them or their family. Be more than a hired gun. Be their trusted adviser.

Sometimes you’re going to make someone mad. Sometimes you’re going to chase away a fee that’s going to walk across the street to another lawyer. But mostly, doing the right thing and giving the right advice is going to pay off for you over the short term and the long term.

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Just say what you think. Tell them the truth. Tell them what they need to know whether it’s what they want to hear or not. Adopting this policy will serve you and your clients well.