Talk about turning the tables; I recently had switch roles from being a Michigan criminal defense lawyer to searching for a criminal lawyer in another state for a relative who lives there. One of the “perks” of being the lawyer in a family is that I get the call, day or night – weekday or weekend, if someone gets into trouble. In the case at hand, all I could do was explain how the charge would be handled if was pending here, in Michigan. Eventually, I was asked to help find a lawyer for the relative. There I sat, a lawyer pretty good at marketing himself, now having to wade through a sea of websites to find a good lawyer – the right lawyer – for someone else, clear across the country.
My wife began the search, asking me what, in general, she should be looking for. Here, I am proud to say that we were looking for someone who would essentially be my out-of-state equivalent. I explained to my wife that while I have some expertise in being found as a lawyer, I have no experience in finding one. I suggested that she search the name of the charge and the city, sort of like someone in Michigan may search both “Clinton Township” and “indecent exposure,” or “Sterling Heights” and “embezzlement,” or “Rochester” and “DUI.”
We certainly got results, just way too many of them. Now we had to narrow things down, so we started slogging our way through some websites. It was strange being on the “other side,” because I wasn’t just looking to look; I needed to find a lawyer. Whatever critical eye I had developed in evaluating another lawyer’s website shifted from my interest in his or her marketing, or potential to compete with me, to the need to find someone for my family member. I was exactly the target market to whom these sites were catering, and I had to quickly pick my way through them to find a real lawyer or I’d be buried alive in lawyer websites.
I quickly began to develop a kind of dislike for lawyers. I felt like I was being attacked by a mob of car salespeople and real estate agents. Every site promised that its lawyer was tougher and more aggressive than anyone else. The real kicker came when I tried to find some information about the charge. I had told my wife that I wanted to find a lawyer, like me, who put up some explanatory information and perhaps had a blog that afforded him or her the opportunity to go into more detail. I learned real quickly that I more or less stand alone by way of the writing I do. Nobody here, meaning in Michigan, and nobody in the state in which I was looking, writes anywhere near the amount of stuff that I do. I have always assumed that most people would look for a lawyer the way I would. I want information and the ability to get a good feel for the person whose name is on the site. Accordingly, that’s how I’ve structured both my site and this blog.
As I continued my search, it became apparent that I was wrong about that. Most sites, it turns out, are long on marketing and short on information. This troubled me, because writing my twice-weekly blog articles allows me to share my approach to cases and my personality with the reader. I’m an explainer, which, in person, translates to being a talker. I’m not quiet. By communicating the way I do, I have probably saved myself countless hours since prospective clients can read my stuff and decide that I’m either on the short list, because they like the way I present things, or that I’m off that list completely, because they don’t. I try to explain things in a way that answers some of the more common questions people have. This has the added benefit of saving me from having to explain the same, basic things over and over, day after day, week after week. This also helps narrow my prospective client base down, for the most part, to people who are looking for an explainer. If someone wants to hire a lawyer who’s the “strong, silent type,” it won’t take long to figure out that I’m not that guy.
Being on the other side of the table, however, was disquieting. I’m use to being the lawyer, not looking for one. I have answers to questions, not questions in need of answers. Yet for all of that, in this situation , I was quickly humbled by the reality of not knowing the nuances of the laws in other states, nor the specifics of other state’s criminal procedure, because I am a Michigan criminal lawyer. In fact, I’m so particular about knowing exactly how things work in the courts where I practice that I only handle DUI and criminal cases in the Metro-Detroit, Tri-County area. Personally, I think it’s important that a lawyer has actual courtroom experience in the specific location where a given case is pending. If not, then you’re almost paying tuition for the lawyer to learn on your dime. And to be clear, I don’t buy into any of this “state-wide” stuff. If a lawyer drives halfway across the state to a certain court once in a blue moon, just having been there a few times does not count as sellable experience in my book. To me, real experience means knowing the place, and the people in it, like the back of your hand.
Eventually, we found a site – one guy – that stood out from all the rest. His site was very explanatory. He didn’t have a blog, but rather a large site that was kind of like my site and blog combined. He didn’t go overboard with testimonials (not surprisingly, some lawyers practically require a testimonial from every client), and I could have cared less about any reviews, because a competitor can submit a bad review, and a glowing review can just as easily be sent in by someone from the inside. Instead, I read his material. He explained what the charge legally meant in his state, and then how it was typically handled in the real world there. He didn’t use any of the words or phrases that are so utterly meaningless and worn out, like “fighter,” or “fight for you,” or “tough,” “aggressive” or anything similarly annoying, such as “not afraid to win.” Honestly, if I had seen any of that, I’d have clicked away. Those are almost big tent, circus-like catchphrases that don’t bestow any sense of class or dignity upon a lawyer. Would you hire a surgeon who promotes his or her ability to “carve like an artist?” Give me a break…
In the end, I passed the information on to the family member, and he wound up retaining the attorney I had found. I never called the guy myself, because I’m quite sure about the last thing he wanted was the interference of some out of state lawyer playing armchair quarterback. The reports back from the other side of the country have been good so far. We’ll see how things go…
It took a few days for me to digest everything. At first, I thought that maybe I was missing out, and should just follow the crowd. The old adage “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” came to mind. Then I thought about the reason I write my articles in the first place, and why my “voice” is so clear on my site, and I decided that I like the way I do things. I’m comfortable being me. As I traded roles from lawyer to consumer, I had a specific thing I was looking for (relevant, honest and useful information), and I kept looking until I found it. Maybe most lawyers aren’t like me, but I do well enough that I don’t have to worry about what anybody else does. I know I attract a much better client base specifically because my clients, like me, are interested in more than just “call now!” slogans.
The bottom line, I suppose, is that I am who I am, and I fit well with like-minded clients. If you’re someone who sometimes feels the need to know why things work as they do, then we are potentially a good fit. Chances are, if you’ve read this far, and you are looking for a lawyer, you should probably call my office and get my take on your situation.