May 14, 2017 When lawyers focus on serving potential and actual clients rather than competing with colleagues
When a potential criminal defense client visits me, s/he is looking to obtain the best possible defense, to relieve hsi or her feelings of distress, and to get his or her pressing questions answered about the case. The potential client is not interested in the lawyer’s interest in obtaining more clients.
The closest I can put myself in the shoes of potential criminal defense clients seeking a lawyer is my plight in finding the right plumber to fix my my home’s water mainline burst that happened only a year after I bought the house, which clearly pales in comparison to what my clients have to deal with in their cases. I checked with two plumbing company owners that were recommended to me. One came right away, but did not seem to have a concrete flowchart nor sufficient confidence and experience (for the plumbing team to be dispatched) about how to handle the job and possible difficulties along the way. The other plumber, whom I hired and was happy for doing so, was recommended to me soon after the first plumber visited, clearly knew what he was doing, clearly was going to send in a qualified team and be intimately involved with the project, and was clear to me about the contingency and extra price range if the new mainline had to be installed with more difficulty than less difficulty. By the time I even knew about water main break — which arose from my seeing an unusually high water bill — so much mud had accumulated where the plumbers had to work, that the plumber I hired recounted to me the seemingly dangerously muddy details of his crew’s solving the situation without needing to resort to the more expensive solution of an already expensive endeavor. Less experienced and capable plumbers likely would have gone for the substantially more expensive solution.
Some criminal defendants will want to choose a lawyer right away — akin to getting a doctor right away in an emergency — even foregoing waiting for the weekend to end so that more lawyers will be available to meet. Other criminal defendants will be more deliberative, with some meeting a large number of lawyers before making their decision. For me, it is important to remember that this is the potential client’s ordeal, and that I am here to meet with them as soon as the defendant is available for my available meeting times (usually I can meet by the next business day), be responsive to their questions, give value for the potential client’s investing his or her time in meeting with me, map out a defense strategy, suggest proactive steps they can take possibly to help their case (for instance with a DWI case, enrolling into alcohol education and a driver improvement class, and doing some documented AA or AA-type meetings, and for a drug case, getting regular clean urine drug tests, enrolling in drug education, and doing documented voluntary community service), and show them how I can serve them.
In other words, the focus is on my potential client and how I can serve them, not about my laurels, my wish for a new retainer fee, nor my asking which other lawyers they are considering (which I do not ask). This is all about serving criminal defendants. This is a variation on the theme of my conviction that when a lawyer puts his or her clients ahead of money, the lawyer will make more money than doing the opposite. The same goes with potential clients. This way, the focus of me and my staff at every turn is on serving our clients well, whether or not I learn that I did or did not undercharge my client for what becomes a particularly protracted defense, and whether or not the battle becomes particularly more challenging than ordinarily expected. This also means that I am available to answer potential clients’ questions and concerns after first meeting with them, as they make a decisions about how to proceed with their case.
Of course, I know that people in business want my business. What separates out those I prefer doing business with from the ones I do not want to do business with is not merely pricing, but the person’s and company’s interest in serving me, rather than taking my money and running; the company’s patience with me as I make my choice about what service or product I want (and even if I want the service or product) and from whom; and the vibe I feel with that company about helping me now and for the long haul, because I do not want to feel that a burning question I have during the business relationship will be met with an unreasonably delayed, absent, or dismissive response; that the company will not deliver on its promises; nor that I will be left hanging in the lurch when I am supposed to be served.
With my clients, I am a team working to harmonize an imbalanced situation. My interest for my potential and actual clients is that they obtain the best possible result in their case. While I think that I am well suited for delivering that, and will provide my full time and attention for each client’s defense, this work is all about serving clients, not about me.