Dear Law Firm: Our engagement has lasted longer than many, but I have to be honest with you: I feel like we’re just going through the motions. Our relationship feels so one-sided, divided, and transactional—an infringement of what is healthy, right, and good.
[To the superstitious, July is often considered an unlucky month for weddings. In a nod to such lore, and to the leisurely and whimsical days of summer, this is a satirical “love” letter from a fictitious client to its fictitious outside intellectual property counsel, a domestic or foreign law firm. The firm has been providing IP representation to the client for quite some time. Unbeknownst to the firm, but acutely felt by the client, their relationship is on the rocks. In a final act of desperation, the client penned these words in hopes that the firm will move swiftly to help heal the brokenness.]
I don’t know how we got here, and why I even should have to write you this letter. You should know what it takes to sustain and grow a mutually fulfilling long-term relationship. You should know enough—and care enough—to check in with me periodically to make sure we’re on the same page. But you don’t seem to, so I guess it’s up to me to get these issues out in the open before it’s too late. You may object to the grounds for concern below, but consider yourself on notice.
It feels like a lifetime since our stars first aligned. I don’t remember why you stood out among the plurality of those vying for my attention, and why engagement felt so right. There must have been a compelling reason. Maybe it was your experience and depth that seemed so compatible with my needs at the time. Maybe it was the way you radiated seemingly genuine concern, affability, passion, and talent. Maybe it was your patent self-confidence and way with words, your solemn pledge to be better and truer than any of the others, that persuaded me to say yes.
Our engagement has lasted longer than many, but I have to be honest with you: I feel like we’re just going through the motions. Our relationship feels so one-sided, divided, and transactional—an infringement of what is healthy, right, and good.
Too often, you look to me to get the ball rolling on things we need to tackle together, and to raise touchy topics. Yes, you do what I ask without argument, you’re very accommodating of my preferences and idiosyncrasies, and you usually accomplish items on our to-do list diligently, competently, and even expertly. Sometimes your resourcefulness impresses me. But I want, and need, a partner who excels at more than obviousness.
I feel like you’re a stranger; that you only show up when I ask. When is the last time we spoke, or at least spoke about matters that go beyond day-to-day distractions and current events? You’re most comfortable writing flowery emails filled with superfluous, indefinite content, obscuring what is material. When I don’t respond to your barrage of messages, you just send more. Showering me with that kind of attention may help you sleep better, but it’s a serious burden on me. I get so frustrated and wish you would try to truly communicate, that we could have a heart-to-heart exchange to transform and restore our relationship. Would that be so novel?
Neither of us can deny that money issues have been a sore spot since the very beginning. I’m admittedly cost-conscious, trying to be a good steward of finances, even when that requires belt-tightening or just maintaining the status quo on spending. You’re wired much differently. You come from a cohort driven by profit-making. I used to live that life myself and know how challenging it can be to restrict the associated pressures. Still, I’ve got to pay the bills and answer to a higher power. And it’s hard for me to feel good about subsidizing your allowance when other fundamentals of our relationship are so out of kilter.
Sometimes I wonder how you can seem so withdrawn, so oblivious to my needs and the obstacles in my path, so willing to churn through life as long as I keep footing the bill. Do you ever reexamine our relationship and ask yourself how much more thought and energy you could invest? I wish you took more initiative than you do, that you were a fully committed co-leader. You have a support system that you could draw from, to enrich what you offer and make us both stronger.
It’s true that I bring my own baggage, that I’m high-maintenance and not always easy to be with. You’ve never told me directly, but I suspect that you’d like me to share more about my inner life, and to involve you in my most important decisions. I also get the sense that you think my expectations of you are unreasonable, that I don’t value you enough. What doesn’t seem to register is that you could build up my trust and commitment by going out on a limb more often than you do.
This is all to say that I feel like throwing in the towel unless things change. You must know that I constantly get overtures from others who plead with me to break off our engagement—to finally reject you and pursue a more meaningful connection. I’d prefer not to abandon our shared history in favor of an unknown quantity, especially one who makes big promises that may ultimately amount to sweet nothings, or to more inequitable conduct.
So, here’s my appeal:
- Show up more often and listen more attentively.
To get closer to me, you need to pursue real communication on a frequent basis. Call me, and visit with me in person when possible, so we can really talk. Try to draw me out, to understand what I’m dealing with, my priorities, and how you can pitch in to lighten the load. If you become the embodiment of a committed questioner and listener, I’ll provide candid, actionable feedback.
- Be a less passive, and more proactive, partner.
I’m not flattered when you stand back, waiting for me to lead, direct, and decide. I do appreciate respect and deference when appropriate, but that’s no license to be a habitual follower. To win my trust and admiration, you should be a true self-starter, to help shine the light on growth opportunities, and on potential solutions to vexing problems.
- Surprise and wow me.
I petition you to submit fresh, imaginative, and inventive ideas to make my life better, to help me be more successful and effective. It doesn’t matter to me whether you recycle notions you gleaned from other relationships, or you experience a flash of genius yourself. If you add some sparkle, you’ll knock me off my feet, and in the process, we’ll both flourish.
- Get your own house in order.
It’s common general knowledge that you can’t be an amazing partner unless you approach a relationship from a place of wholeness. I only have a limited window into your world, but I’m fairly confident that it has its share of skeletons in the closet. Try your utmost to address those problems so they’re less toxic to our present and future.
- Don’t take our relationship for granted.
If you truly want to extend the term of our engagement, you’ve got to make a continuing investment. Clinging to what’s easy and comfortable, and what worked for us in the past, may not be sufficient going forward. Loyalty may form part of our bond, but it’s no substitute for substance.
In closing, please know that I write these words out of deep respect for you. I truly hope that you recognize the validity of my claims, and that you’ll take accelerated, concrete steps to revive our relationship while there’s still time.
Current* IP Client
* Client status is subject to change.
This article reflects my current personal views and should not be necessarily attributed to my current or former employers, or their respective clients or customers.
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