I write extensively about Michigan DUI, driver’s license restoration and criminal cases. Occasionally, one of the topics I take up is how to find a lawyer. Contrary to what you might expect, I don’t bend or twist my articles into some kind a long-winded excuse to just say, “Call me!” Of course, I am in business to make money, and although my driver’s license practice is truly global (I handle Michigan clearance and restoration issues for people all across the country and beyond. One client, a U.S. Army Serviceman, came to see me on leave from Korea, and the week this article was written, I was hired by a former Michigander now living in Hawaii), I limit my DUI and criminal practice to the Greater-Detroit area (Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties). Thus, I realize that plenty of people who will never call or hire me still look for some guidance in my articles. In this installment, I want to warn the reader about a huge mistake I see people make all the time: Hiring a lawyer too quickly.
As much as I enjoy my work, I have no love for the legal “industry” and its marketing strategies. I have tried very hard to break that mold by writing informative and helpful articles on my blog and by doing all of my initial consultations by phone, rather than making a person come in for an appointment. I am still amazed that any lawyer would ever use completely meaningless and worn-out descriptions like “tough” and “aggressive,” yet they do. I am even more amazed that it seems to work. In every occupation, experience is passed on from the veteran to the newbies. Some of the business “tricks” I learned as a young lawyer have never sat right with me, and, as a result, I have never used them, despite the likely potential lost revenue. Even so, I have done well enough that I am glad to have done it “my way.” Perhaps the biggest things lawyers try to do, and in which I see little benefit to the client, is to hurry up and “sign up” any new potential case.
You can get a taste of this from those operations that advertise that their phones are answered 24 hours. Left out of that, of course, is that an answering service takes the calls during the night. Do you really think any lawyer answering his or her own phone on a Saturday night while out with the family, or at 3 a.m. any day of the week, would be anything less than dangerously desperate? Here is the thing: Even if you have court the next day, you can always get extra time from the Judge to find and hire a lawyer. And because you can, you should, even if you’ve waited beyond the last minute. If there is one thing to take away from this article, it is that you should never – absolutely never – hire a lawyer without having “shopped around” first. And the only lawyers who will tell you differently are those afraid of you checking out your options. Doesn’t’ that tell you something?
In the real world, lawyers must, to a greater or lesser extent, become salespeople. Have you ever walked into an appliance store or a car dealership and not been “jumped on” right away? The thought is that if this person has money to spend, I better position myself to get it. In the legal world, that translates into fast return calls and prompt consultation appointments. I may, for saying this, be like the magician who reveals how the trick is done, to the contempt of his or her colleagues, but plan of operation that many lawyers use is to “hook ’em and book ’em.” I better get to them before someone else does…
Not me. I don’t ever want to be anything like what I so strongly dislike about the proverbial “high pressure salesman.” As a consumer, I have always responded more to those who offer their goods or services without pressure, and who are confident enough to expect, and indeed, encourage, comparison shopping. Goods and services are typically sold in 1 of 3 ways: Cheapest, highest quality or best value. Legal services are a little different because so many lawyers try to compete on low price, “best value” defies quantification, and “highest quality” doesn’t care to be confused with either. There isn’t much to be said for the cheapest other than cheap is cheap. To offer services as the “highest quality” requires confidence on the part of the lawyer, but at least anyone operating on that basis should expect a potential client to shop around. In my practice, I have no inclination to compete with anyone on price. Instead, I define myself by the skill I bring and the results I produce. That, of course, makes me one of the “high quality” players, but the thing is, as much as I, or any other lawyer can say that, you, as the consumer, need to evaluate that on your own.
And that’s the real point here. I’m not jumping up and down and shouting “hire me, hire me!” I am saying that you, as the consumer, need to take your time and do some careful analysis before you hand your well-being and your money over to any lawyer. As good as I think I am, I know that there are certain kinds of clients with whom I won’t click. If you read any of my articles, you can see that I’m an analyzer and explainer; that fits well with some folks, but not others. As a lawyer, I know there are no shortcuts to doing things right, but that should also be the guiding principle for someone looking to hire a lawyer.
As important as this is, it is also incredibly simple. Don’t jump too soon; do your homework; check out your options; shop around; take some time to think things over. However you say it, be a good and thoughtful consumer. Fear is your enemy. Some people find a sense of “protection” in having a lawyer retained right away, and while feelings are facts, the sense of urgency that drives them to look for a lawyer and jump at the first one to call him or her back is always, and I mean ALWAYS, misplaced. Let me repeat something I mentioned earlier: If you have court the next day, and almost without exception, you can show up and ask the Judge for more time to find a lawyer. You should never “jump” and decide upon a lawyer primarily because you are afraid or feel pressure to get one quickly.
It truly disturbs me that anyone, in any occupation, would trade on someone’s fear, but it would be naïve to pretend that this isn’t part and parcel of the whole “Phones answered 24 hours” tactic. A call made at 2 in the morning will reach the answering service, but will line you up for a return call first thing in the morning. And it (almost) goes without saying, but any lawyer available at that time would be far more desperate than qualified. It baffles me that anyone would think they could find a really good, qualified lawyer by calling in the middle of the night.
I understand that it is frightening to be facing a criminal charge. Because I have a rather high-end practice, many of my clients have never been in any kind of trouble before, and often have very good positions and a lot at stake. These people want answers, explanations and reassurance, and they want it sooner, rather than later. This can be compounded by the fact that they have money, so the fear coupled with the ability to afford a lawyer results in a kind of impatience that can drive a quick, and therefore ill-considered, decision.
Don’t do that. Sure, call me, but call around, as well. Take the time to read what lawyers have written about a case like yours. Pick up the phone and make calls. You can learn a lot by how your call is answered. If you get voicemail, or an answering service during regular business hours, that tells you something, though nothing particularly good. Whoever answers your call is, by default, the “director of first impressions.” In my office, that person can answer some, if not most of your questions, right when you call. That should tell you something, as well.
Because I hate “feeling the pressure” when I’m on the consumer side of any transaction, I would never want to inflict that on anyone else. The whole idea of making an appointment for an office consultation is nothing more that a way to start the “hook ’em and book ’em” process right away. I vividly remember being told that the idea is to get a caller into the “client chair” and then sitting across from them, and beginning by saying “let me get a little information first.” By the time the client has filled out an intake form and told his or her story, and unless the lawyer does something really weird, a sense of “commitment” can start to form. Of course, the lawyer will foster this by using “team” phrases such as “we” and “our” rather than “you” and “your.” If I had to do that to get clients, I’d quit practicing law altogether. I’m dead serious.
I want to be chosen as the lawyer. I want my clients to do their homework and pick me because I was the best of the pack they evaluated. This is one of the reasons why I do all the consultation stuff over the phone. Another reason is that I am fortunate enough to be busy, and I don’t think it’s right for me to NOT work on someone’s case because I’m lining up office appointments to scrounge around for new business. Over the last 25 years, I cannot think of a single thing that could not be examined well enough in a “consultation” over the phone, rather than in-person. I know that I generally am not interested in doing business with any company that cannot give me some useful information when I call. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be any different.
Yet for everything I’ve said, the point of this article is to remind the reader to NOT jump. No matter how desperate your situation may feel, take the time, or, if you have to, get the time, and then use that time to find the lawyer who is right for you. If you move too quickly, the only way you’ll get the right lawyer is by sheer luck, and if you’re already facing a DUI or criminal charge, your luck isn’t running very high in the first place. Let knowledge, and not fear, be your guide.