An Unbillable Hour In My Life as a Business Attorney
April 29, 2015
I think a lot of people probably have strange–or, at least, inaccurate–ideas about what it is that I actually do all day. When I tell people I often work from home, I think they imagine me sitting, disheveled, in my PJs, sipping coffee and listening to music or watching something on Netflix as I incessantly post on Facebook, and generally procrastinate about actually doing any legal work. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I say I work from home, what that really means is I live at work. And that work is often more a labor of love than a singleminded pursuit of the almighty dollar. Just to give you a momentary insight into what I do, let me tell you about a phone call I just had.
A prospective client called me. He has a problem with a residential construction company. The company, according to him, installed a bathroom fixture incorrectly, causing damage to the fixture such that it needs to be replaced. He paid the company a small sum of money (less than $500) to install a tub he purchased. That tub was not a good fit for the space, and he decided to replace it. The company told him they would waive the charge for the install they had performed, buy a tub at wholesale, and install it–all for a flat fee (less than $2,000). The company did this, but the tub is now cracked. The prospective client believes the tub is cracked because it was installed incorrectly. He wants to sue, if they don’t refund his money or replace the tub at no additional cost to him.
I spent exactly 30 minutes talking to this gentleman. I told him precisely what he needed to know–how to handle the negotiation for the refund or replacement of the tub, what to consider if he was going to file a law suit, how to have the summons and complaint served, and a lot of other things. I told him I would be willing to take his case, but explained it would likely not be cost-efficient to do so, and I explained why. I offered to perform some pre-litigation services for him, for a nominal fee, to make it easier for him to achieve a desirable result if he did sue the company; I also told him the consultation we were having over the phone carried with it no obligation to hire me, and that if he chose not to hire me, there would be no fee for the consultation.
I then looked up the information on the potential defendant(s) in this prospective client’s case, emailed him what I found, and reiterated in the email my offer to represent him or to perform the pre-litigation work we had discussed. This whole interaction took a little less than an hour. I had no obligation to do any of this. I had no obligation to give a free consultation (the guy said I gave him a lot more information than he was expecting, by the way). I had no obligation to essentially tell him how to bring this case himself. I had no obligation to do extra research for him, and then email him helpful information. I could have said, “Look, man, I’m busy, and your case isn’t worth even your time, much less mine. Have a nice day.” I did not do that. Instead, I treated him exactly as I would want to be treated. I gave him all the helpful advice and information I could, and I gave him flexible options for hiring an attorney at a reasonable rate.
People think lawyers are rich, ambulance-chasing, unethical, (sometimes stupid), 24/7 workaholics who bill 3,000 hours a year. They think most lawyers act like As-Seen-On-TV shysters, who clients never actually meet outside of court once-in-a-while. People think lawyers are pit bulls (the stereotypical divorce lawyer) or good ol’ boys (characterized by the aphorism, “A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.”) or ghosts–you know, the lawyer who you can’t ever reach by phone or email, who utterly fails to communicate with his clients.
You know what, though? I am none of those things. Neither are any of the other lawyers that work for me or who work with me. I love a lawyer joke as much as the next attorney, but I think people really need to know that often their lawyer doesn’t fit into any of the usual stereotypes.
One of the many euphemisms for lawyer is “counselor,” and for good reason. I spend a large amount of time, each month, educating my clients, prospective clients, and people in the business community (including other lawyers) about business legal issues. I advise business decision-makers on legal issues. I give no-obligation consultations to prospective clients. I write blog and newsletter articles, hoping our website’s visitors will benefit from helpful, free advice. I answer every single email I receive from anyone needing legal help. I answer my mobile phone or return missed calls promptly. Why? Because I’m a greedy workaholic? No. I treat my clients as well as I can because I sincerely care about them and about the business community at large.
A good lawyer may not be one you often see on TV. He probably isn’t the pit bull. He certainly isn’t the good ol’ boy or the ghost. A good lawyer doesn’t embody any of the typical stereotypes; he rises above them. A good lawyer is the lawyer you not only trust, but who makes himself essential to his client. My grandfather used to say of choosing a spouse, “Don’t find someone you can live with. Find someone you cannot live without.” A good lawyer is an attorney their client cannot live without.
I started this post just to try to give people a little better view into my day, a more accurate picture of the kind of lawyer I am–the guy who works hard to serve people who need the legal services I provide (even if I probably won’t make much or anything from their case). I guess I’ve gone all Jerry Maguire. That’s okay, I think. I just want you to take one thing away from this post, and it’s this:
The practice of the law is so much more than legal research, legal writing, negotiating, contracts, law suits, and all the other things that usually come to mind when people think about lawyers, because the law is about people; it’s a people business. I want to work every day, for every client, like every client is my most important client, and I want my clients to really see and feel that. I want to exemplify the moniker, “Counselor.” At our best, that’s what lawyers are: counselors, advisors, the men and women who know how best to get things done and direct leaders to be their best. We lead the leaders, and those who follow prosper. That’s a pretty awesome thing to get to do, every day.
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