Over the last few years, I have had an increasing number of clients retain me over the phone, before they ever even meet me or come to my office. This article, like the previous, will be another departure from my usual informational installment, because instead of talking about Metro Detroit-area DUI cases or Michigan driver’s license restoration appeals, I will examine things from my side of the desk, and the somewhat new way that I’m being hired. What’s so interesting to me is that I had nothing to do with this. I never “offered” it as an option. Instead, it grew out of this blog, more than anything else, and is really a thing of its own creation.
My website and this blog contain a lot of genuinely useful information about DUI, driver’s license restoration and criminal cases. In the criminal setting, I have a rather eclectic concentration in DUI (drunk driving), DWLS/DWLR, embezzlement and indecent exposure cases. I publish 2 articles every week, and I examine my subjects in careful detail. I write about things like the stress a person arrested for a drunk driving goes through, the experience of getting sober, and how that’s a necessary requirement to win back your driver’s license, and how embezzlement cases and indecent exposure cases work in the real world. I don’t write to impress other lawyers; my goal is to speak through the written word with the same conversational voice I have if I’m sitting across a table from someone. Apparently (and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being rather proud of it), a lot of people identify with this.
So much so, in fact, that some years ago, it became clear that my “voice” was reaching people in a way that when they’d call my office, they were more than content to book appointments without ever talking to me first. That was certainly different, at least back then, because lawyers essentially thrive with the understanding that the way to get clients is to bring them in for the free consultation and have them “sign up.” In other words, the object of getting a new caller on the phone is to get him or her to agree to come in and “discuss” the matter further. That was never the way I operated, anyway, because I always preferred to do all my consultation stuff over the phone. I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career to be too busy to have time to bring people in just to “kick the tires.” If you’re looking to hire a lawyer, we’ll answer your questions right when you call; there will be none of this “come on in so we can talk about it” stuff…
There has been another benefit to this, and I am lucky enough to reap it. Because of the volume of material I put up on my blog, I have attracted a much better class of clients. I don’t know how else to put this, but my clients are typically readers with superior intelligence, and people who pay attention to details. That’s not a bunch of smoke, either. I don’t get calls from folks who are trying to sell a 12 year old car that doesn’t run, parked in their front yard, in order to come up with a retainer. My clients, almost without exception, are engineers, medical personnel and other professionals who are drawn to me because I take the time, in my articles, to address the nuances that concern them. And while I’m being so direct here, let me ask, if only rhetorically, what kind of representation would you expect from someone who thinks the first and best way to describe him or herself is “tough” or “aggressive”? Although they don’t sound nearly as powerful, better qualifications are things like “analytical,” “intelligent” and “thorough.” To me, this is kind of like the difference between an angry swing with a sledgehammer versus a precise cut with a laser scalpel.
To succeed in almost any endeavor, one must engage in a bit of self-promotion. In my case, I like to brag that between my paralegal and my senior assistant, just about any caller will have all of his or her questions answered by the person that picks up the phone. This is another wonderful but unintentional outgrowth of how I do things. When I place a call to a business, I expect the person who takes my call to be able to answer at least some questions. I simply do not have the patience to call somewhere and leave my name and number for a callback without getting a little information first. A few years ago, when I called about having some foundation work done to my late parents’ home, the person who answered my very first call explained that while she couldn’t say for sure what my situation was (understandable), based upon her experience, it sounded like the back patio had sunk and that I’d need some “piers” put in to shore things up. When I asked how much, she again told me that it would all depend on the extent of the job, but probably around $10,000 to $15,000. I called around and got a lot of hot air about how no one could tell me anything until they saw the house. Ultimately, I went with the first company, in part because I felt like everyone I spoke with was helpful, honest and had a good idea of what was going to happen.
When someone telephones a lawyer, they want information, and they want it right when they call. My staff can quote an exact fee (I also list my fees on this blog and on my site) for any particular matter. Of course, there are certain things that only the lawyer (or the doctor or the dentist or the CPA) can explain, but in the real world, I’ve learned that those are few and far between as it relates to the pressing concerns a person has when he or she is calling for a lawyer. Beyond being able to answer questions, I pride myself on having a genuinely nice staff. The first requirement I have before bringing anybody on board is personality. Ann, my senior assistant, has been with me for over 10 years, and is the sister-in-law to my previous senior assistant, who retired a few years ago. Ashlee, my paralegal, is Ann’s daughter-in-law, and was hired, first and foremost, because of her personality. Beyond that, she has completed her formal paralegal education and has a ton of knowledge and experience. In the final analysis, however, if the person who answers your call isn’t friendly and helpful, you probably couldn’t care less how educated or smart they are.
Even the greatest staff in the world doesn’t change the absolute necessity for the lawyer to spend quality time with the client. I pride myself on really getting to know my clients and understanding their particular concerns and situation. Accordingly, the “retain me by phone” thing is NOT a substitute for a face-to-face meeting down the road, at least in most situations. It is, instead, a way to get a case going, but I still want my client to come in and meet with me before we do anything significant on his or her case. Thus, if I get a call from someone who has a court date in the next few days, I can usually put off that upcoming court date right when they retain me so that we can schedule a first meeting before the new date rolls around. In those cases where I cannot just call the court and get the date adjourned, I will show up in court, adjourn the matter in person, and then await the actual office meeting with my client. My office meetings usually take about 2 hours or so, and sometimes even longer. There is no way that, in a DUI case, for example, I can go over anything meaningful, much less get to “know” my client, in a mere hour. Thus, my DUI clients will spend at least 2 hours with me the first time we meet, and we’ll meet again later, as well.
The bottom line is that my office has evolved to offer a way to retain my services by phone. This helps avoid a mad scramble of schedules, or, worse yet, someone paying over money to a lawyer simply because he or she was “convenient.” Granted, nothing can be better than the ability to schedule an appointment without being influenced by imminent time constraints, but when schedule, or distance, or whatever make that difficult, a client can come to “know” me through my writings, get his or questions answered right when they call, and then retain me directly over the phone so that we can meet when the obstacles that made that difficult in the first place have cleared.