Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lawyering on Demand

I've decided that I want to shoot the guy who first came up with whole "If you have a phone, you have a lawyer" tagline.* Because it's stupid shit like that that makes my life just that much more annoying.

I work in a very small law office. There are not many lawyers here and therefore we can't justify a huge support staff. And that means that, from time to time, we lawyers have to answer the phone, like when the receptionist is busy on another call.

Trust me, when I'm busy doing other work -- billable work -- talking to a random person who thinks they "might" have a claim is the last thing I want to do.

First of all, far too often there's an expectation that I'll dispense free legal advice over the phone. Once they spill out the facts of their situation -- usually a long a drawn out process -- they'll demand that I immediately tell them that they have a case. Guess what: that's not my call. And even if it were, why would I tell you? If I tell you that you've got a case, nothing prevents you from then running to another firm and hiring them. And seeing as you haven't paid me for the time I spent listening to you and telling you that you have a case... well that pretty screws me and my firm.

I simply do not understand how it is that people feel like they have the right to pick up a phone and get immediate access to free legal advice from private firms like mine. I have to earn my keep here; that means working on client projects that actually generate money. The time I spend listening to you blather on, as well as the time I spend thinking about your case to come to a reasoned conclusion about the merits of your situation, is time I could spend doing other paid work. It's a simple function of economics: the time I spend listening to you is likely to generate no return whatsoever. That's why I usually refer you to an assistant who will listen patiently to you, take down notes about your situation, then bring them back to the attorneys for later evaluation.

Now, just because this is a small firm ("Law Offices of Joe Schmo"), why do you think you can pick up the phone and say "I'd like to talk to Mr. Schmo, please."? Really, do you think Mr. Schmo does nothing with his time but sit around and wait to dump free advice onto random callers? He's busy. The lawyers are busy. That's why they have support staff to answer the phones. It would be pretty silly to have them there answering phones if they then really only had to push them over to the Big Guy, now wouldn't it? Think of it this way: Sullivan and Cromwell is a rather large firm in DC. I'm pretty sure that no one ever picks up phone and demands to speak with Mr. Sullivan or Mr. Cromwell unless and until they've established a prior working relationship with them (or unless they're personal acquaintances).

Plus, let's face it, more often than not your case isn't anywhere near as strong as you think it is. I once had someone call and tell me she knew "for a fact" that she had a case. Not knowing anything about her matter, I was ready to lay odds that she was full of shit. Another person called this morning demanding to speak to a lawyer because she had an urgent need for one. Sorry, but I can't drop everything for you right now -- kinda busy. Talk to the hand.

So stop with this whole "entitlement to a lawyer" thing. You don't have one (at least not in a civil case). Just because you have a phone does NOT mean you have a lawyer. This society is too damn over-litigious anyway.

* DISCLAIMER: I do not literally want to shoot him. I just want to inflict serious bodily harm upon him.**

** FURTHER DISCLAIMER: This, too, is not true. But I think you get my point by now.***

*** STILL FURTHER DISCLAIMER: Just in case any lawyers out there get any stupid ideas, no, I am not encouraging or forecasting unlawful or illegal action against this person. I'm just writing a damn blog post expressing some frustration. Seriously, get over it.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I love that TV commercial with the old lady with the exploding slow cooker, and it's like in the background blowing up, and she's on the phone calling probably you. And then there's the one with the attacking lawnmower. Hire me for your Marketing team, D.