Monday, February 08, 2010

The More Things Change, The More Potential Clients Stay The Same

When I first started in private practice, I'd go anywhere to represent someone. I'd drive hours to a courthouse, or meet a client at a convenient place. I went to some interesting places.... Now, a few years later, most meetings are in my office, most cases, close to home.

But then there was last Thursday. A frantic mom called from her home a few hundred miles away - her son, a college student here, was arrested on some serious drug charges. Coming to my office was going to take some serious work, as he had no car and was waiting on a friend to take him back to campus after being recently sprung from the county jail.

So I looked at my schedule and realized that I was soon to head out of town for a conference, and drive right by the college.

"I'll go see him there."

Why not. Nothing wrong with going back to your roots and doing things you haven't done in a long time. It keeps you grounded.

So I went to the college and spend some time with my potential client. Interesting case, nice kid. He tells me to tell mom to hire me.

Now about an hour late for my drive out of town, I call mom and explain the situation as I know it to be and quote her a fee. She doesn't seem fazed by the fee and says she'll get back to me after talking to dad.

This was Thursday.

Today, Monday, I learn who the judge is, and send a message to mom letting her know about the judge and asking whether I should proceed on the case.

"I was going to follow up to let you know that your fee schedule was not affordable so we retained another attorney. My apologies for not calling. Thank you."

First, she was never going to call. We all know that. No one calls back unless they are hiring you or are of that rare breed that want to pay you for your time (that real, real rare breed) or just have that sense that saying "no thanks," never killed anyone.

Second, she violated rule 6 of my ebook: "Be honest with the lawyer. Tell him you want to hire him (if you do) and the details of your financial situation. You just told this lawyer you were plastered, picked up a hooker, stole something, or shot someone. This is not a time to be coy, or shy. Admit you are poor, broke, or need time to pay the fee. Tell the lawyer what you can come up with right now, today."

I also say in my ebook to "not negotiate," but that's mutually exclusive of telling the lawyer "hey, this is what I can afford" and letting the lawyer decide they really want the case, for a different price.

So after I made my house call (my first and last house call this year thank you lady for ruining it for everyone) and calmed her fears, she called another lawyer or 4. A lawyer who didn't go see her son, but gave her the "number" she wanted, got the case. She wasn't looking for a lawyer, she was looking for a fee.

I just hope she got both.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

Share/Save/Bookmark rules Post to Twitter