Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seller's Remorse: A Lesson In Abandoning Policy

Sorry to interrupt the circus of marketing advice out there purporting to show you how to get all the clients you want who have a a few bucks and a problem, but the one thing no one ever mentions, is that most of this advice comes from those without clients. Former failed lawyers-turned-marketers can help you be the best neon sign on the Vegas Strip (they say), but have no concept about the real decisions that are required by lawyers who wish to run their practices, instead of having their practices run them.

You know what I'm talking about. Most lawyers have a philosophy about client intake - if you have money and a problem, I'm your lawyer. Lawyers hear that the best case is "the case you turn down," but does anyone really do that?

Most lawyers don't create policies that weed out the headaches that cause burnout and a general distaste for the profession.

Policies like, for example, talking to clients over the phone and quoting fees prior to bringing them in to the office where an hour later you realize the potential client has no money. We are car salesmen after all, aren't we? Come on in, kick the tires, and we'll sell your the car.

Or, as another example, not answering the cell phone at all hours of the day so the client doesn't think they can abuse the ability to reach you at all hours. Make clients think they need to respect your after-hours and weekend time, and you'll have no practice, right?

Or like the policy I want to talk about here, never being the second lawyer.

Yep, that's mine.

I don't want to be the second lawyer, for several reasons.

One, and most important, is that the majority of people who have a falling out with the first lawyer, will never be happy with any lawyer.

Many calls I receive from clients with Bar complaints begin with "I was the (second, third, fourth) lawyer on the case."

While there are exceptions to this policy, they are rare. Sure there are lawyers who take a case and do no work, never return calls, and are truly the culprit in the breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. Mostly though, the problem is that the client is unhappy with news, or believes that the lawyer is not paying them enough attention, or wouldn't file a motion that no lawyer should file. I also rarely hear a call for the second or thurd lawyer where there isn't a trail of unpaid legal fees.

What interests me is the controversy this policy causes. Lawyers express shock that I would have such a policy. These are the same lawyers who are all too willing to meet with a represented client and make the client believe they can do better. They would never think to recommend that the unhappy client try to reconcile with the offending lawyer. There's no money in that...

Some lawyers also believe, assuming it's not just a case of a client with ridiculous expectations, that I owe an obligation to a client who chose a bad lawyer.


There's more information about lawyers out there today then there ever has been. If the client is making a bad decision on bad information, perpetrated by scumbag marketers and not taking the time to verify the lawyer's credentials, why does that become my "obligation?"

Disagree all you want. I'm not the savior for those that hire lawyers based on flash and buzzwords

So yeah, I did it. I violated my policy.

It gets worse.

All the evidence was there not to do this.

But this was going to happen. Sometimes human elements trump hard and fast policy.

Now the search for the third lawyer commences.

Will I do this again? Probably. Soon? not a chance.

But I will tell you this: the practice philosophy of 24/7, any case, any client, any fee, any personality, is a recipe for burnout.

Not every client or case is right for every lawyer, regardless of the fact that the money looks the same.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark


Brian Cuban said...

Good article. Applies to the civil side as well. They also tell you about the bar complaints they are filing against the prior lawyers.

mirriam said...

This article is interesting since I am frequently the second lawyer. I hear that the first promised them a bed of roses and when it got down to brass tacks they tried to make the guy take a plea. I ain't their girl if they are looking for puppy dogs and roses, first time or second time around. It's also true that my business tactics aren't so hot - I will always encourage reconciliation with original counsel first. Initially, because it is unlikely that the client will get much dough back after motions have been filed and argued and they are getting cold feet right before trial, which means little to no money for lawyer #2, and secondly because I think it's usually just better for the client.

But that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, no business is better than bad business...