In some of my criminal law, DUI and driver’s license restoration articles, I have gone beyond a mere discussion about “the law” and have tried to pull back the curtain a bit, so to speak, in order to help the reader understand the real working role of the lawyer, and not just in the sense in some way that amounts to nothing more than an excuse to say “call me!” If we’re going to be brutally honest, all doctors, dentists, lawyers and even funeral directors are in business. At the end of the day, every professional offers his or her services to make a living. Sure, most of us really want to help people, but you’re not much of a professional at anything if you’re not success driven. For my part, I want to receive a rewarding fee for what I do, and in exchange feel like I’m providing a top-notch service to my client. I want to be the best at what I do. And while this all sounds great, what does it mean, and why should any of this matter to you?
If you are looking for a lawyer for a DUI or driver’s license restoration case, then you already know that the field is crowded, and there is a lot to sort through. The same thing goes for anyone facing a criminal charge and looking for a criminal lawyer. Beyond your own inquiries, you may get recommendations from friends and family. In the strongest way possible, I’d advise against just “jumping” at anyone’s recommendation, even if the lawyer who gets the endorsement is me. You should always check around on your own, read articles, see what kind of information any given lawyer has posted, and then make some phone calls. There simply is NO downside to being a smart consumer and doing your homework.
There’s an old saying to the effect that “information is power.” Actually, it’s not. At best, information is only potential power. Any real power comes from using that information to your advantage. If you go back through my blog articles, for example, especially many of those written earlier, I examine just about every legal situation a person could possibly face. Therefore, when I say “information,” I mean a lot more than meaningless prattle about being “tough” or “aggressive.” Labels, especially those we use for ourselves, fall far short of any kind of useful information. One of first things you should look for in the search for a lawyer is genuine value, and not just in terms of cost, or price. “Value,” in this sense, means importance to your life. What is the value of being able to breathe? That’s not something on which you put a price. What’s the value of winning back or keeping your driver’s license, or keeping a criminal conviction (perhaps for something like possession of marijuana) off of your record? And there’s more…
To really be special, meaning valuable, as a lawyer (or a doctor or a dentist or any professional), one must do more than others. A given professional must be more valuable than others, but in a way that isn’t just some kind of added value relative to cost, like lower price or a free TV just for coming in. In my mind, it’s doing more than others that is so important, and how I identify my value. Let me use an illustration:
At home, in my personal life, I am a Mac/Apple user. Most business offices, however, run on Windows, and mine is no exception. At home, though, I go for Apple everything. I have an iPhone, iPad, and our home computers are all Macs. Apple is, of course, more expensive, but their products have always functioned better, at least to me (and, obviously, a lot of other people, as well. I know a lot of IT people will bristle at this, but the only computer I’ve had in for a repair since I switched to Apple have been the Windows desktops from work). Every one of their products seamlessly works with every other. Every program for Apple works without a hitch. Sure, there are phones, tablets and computers from other manufacturers that cost much less, but for me, a big part of the “value” is the comfort I get in knowing that the Apple products I buy are of top quality and will work flawlessly and easily, right out of the box. For me, Apple does more than any of its competitors for a similar product (I know that the Samsung phones are every bit as good, if even not better that iPhones, so don’t misunderstand where I’m coming from you have one. Heck, I even like the size of the Samsung better, but my iPhone integrates perfectly with the rest my Apple/Mac setup). It may cost more, but Apple represents a true value to me because it works better for me.
As a lawyer, I certainly I believe that I bring a huge “value” to my clients, but anyone looking for a lawyer has to decide what “value” means, and what is “valuable” to him or her. Let me use another example, except this one will be from the legal world. There are a few law firms that are rather well known in the Metro-Detroit. Their prices, not surprisingly, are often high, and sometimes, a client can wind up paying a good deal more for one of their lawyers than he or she would pay elsewhere. That said, the firms I’m describing are good, solid law firms, and overall, the do very competent work. A person going with one of these firms may feel that, just like me with the Apple thing, the idea that they may be paying a little more is offset by not having to cull through the ocean of other lawyers to find quality representation. The client finds value in knowing that his or her case will be properly handled, and avoiding all the hassle of digging through competing claims of ability and fee schedules is a real bonus.
In my driver’s license restoration practice, for example, I try to be the final word on “value” by offering a win guarantee. That matters to a lot of people, but, as I was once told by a wise old man, “That’s what makes prize fights and horse races, and why the paint store has different colors.” The idea, of course, is that what represents “value” for one person may not for another. It goes without saying that every lawyer (or doctor or dentist or funeral director) has, or at least should have, a clear idea of what his or her “value” is. In a remote area, the “value” may be that the lawyer or doctor or whomever is the only such professional around. In a heavily populated place like the Greater Detroit area, competition is high, so value will necessarily be something different. For the large law firm, it may be “one stop shopping.” For someone like me, it’s rather opposite: I do a few things (driver’s license restoration, DUI (and they’re related) along with several kinds of criminal matters, including drug/marijuana possession, embezzlement, indecent exposure, and suspended/revoked license charges), but I do them extremely well. Some lawyers only do one kind of case, like estate planning or patent law cases. Personal injury lawyers promote their “value” based upon the amounts of case settlements and verdicts they have won.
What’s obvious is that you wouldn’t hire an estate-planning lawyer for a DUI any more than you’d hire a patent lawyer for a personal injury case. There is no value in that. Whatever else, you certainly won’t find any “value” in a lawyer, or any professional, who cannot or does not clearly identify it in him or herself. In other words, everyone has to believe that he or she is the best at some aspect of what he or she does. Some lawyers, for example, thrive on being the most affordable. Whatever you can say about that, at least the person has a concept of being the “best” in some way or other. I often think of lawyers in the same way I think of plastic surgeons because there seems to be 2 distinct approaches to providing services: Some think they are the best at what they do, and don’t concern themselves with price, while others think their best selling point is having a low price. What’s to say about those who don’t have any clear notion of why you should choose them over anyone else?
If I was in the market to get some kind of facelift, or nose job, I know I’d be looking for the “best” surgeon without concern for price, even if I had to save and wait to afford the operation. I know that it is always possible to overpay for anything, but I’d be really skeptical about those places that do plastic surgery at a discount, like offering 2-for-1 breast augmentation procedures. The same would hold true for skipping over the “best price” deal in a DUI case, because I know, given the hours I spend in the office with my DUI clients, that cut-rate fee means cutting corners. However in terms of “value,” I think that a simple Will for someone of around average means shouldn’t require a trip to a top-notch estate planning firm’s posh offices, either. It all comes back to what “value” means to you, as the consumer.
I’m sure the reader has been wondering, at least a bit, when I’m going to let loose with my estimation of my own “value.” Here it is: Among the things that I believe separate me from the herd of other lawyers, beyond the specific kinds of cases I handle, is that I have a full time staff in my office, so the phones are answered M-F, from 8:30 to 5, by either Ann, my senior assistant, or Ashlee, my paralegal. This means you won’t get stuck with some lawyer answering his or her own phone and your call will never go to voicemail. If you have a question about an upcoming court date, the staff can pull your file and answer it right when you call, just as they can answer pretty much any kind of question in the areas of law that I practice. I also have the absolute nicest and most helpful staff you will find anywhere. Think I’m exaggerating? Call around and ask some questions. As for me, beyond a law degree and over 25 years’ experience as a lawyer, I have a post-graduate education in the field of addiction studies. Since alcohol (or drug) issues are so intimately involved in most of the kinds of cases I handle, I can safely say that I am unrivaled amongst practicing lawyers in my understanding of the development, diagnosis, treatment and recovery from alcohol and/or drug problems. This enables me to produce case results other lawyers cannot even imagine. It’s also why I guarantee a win in every driver’s license restoration case I take.
Beyond all this, I speak like I write, and I write a lot. No one else has poured his or her heart and soul onto the page like me. You can pretty much figure out everything about me by reading my blog articles. I speak frankly, and cringe at the very idea of ever just telling someone what they want to hear. Sometimes, the truth is unpleasant, but if you need a lawyer, some of the most important things you need are accuracy, competence and honesty. I never provide less, even if that means someone hands over his or her money to another lawyer who paints an overly “rosy” picture. I have this sometimes-frustrating thing called a conscience, and while it has probably cost me a lot of money over the years, it has likely saved me a lot of regrets, as well.
No matter what else you are told, it is important that you, as the consumer, first discover the value that any lawyer of other professional identifies in him or herself, and then identify if that value is important to you. In my world, it’s doing more, being better at what I do while being honest. It’s about being able to offer a guarantee, and it’s reflected in the emails I return after hours, or on a Sunday night. It’s about just being there. What is it for you? Answer that question, and you’ve already made a lot of progress in your search for the right lawyer or other professional.