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Why your lawyer won’t take or return your phone calls – top 10 reasons

by pfeifer on February 19, 2010

The most frequent complaint about lawyers is they won’t take or return phone calls.  Articles on this subject usually sugarcoat the issue, give some blah blah blah about professional responsibility, or try to it wrap up in a touchy-feely feel-good win-win conclusion.  No one really wants to tell you what is going on.  You want the truth about why your lawyer doesn’t want to talk to you?  Here are the top ten reasons your attorney won’t return your calls.

10. Your lawyer is busy on something more important. While you may think and act like you are your lawyer’s only client, the reality is that a lot of other people hired the same attorney as you.  Your business alone will not pay your lawyer’s bills.  Lawyers have to meet crucial deadlines. They spend hours standing around in courtrooms, and more hours researching and preparing to stand around in courtrooms.  They are in meetings with clients, interviewing witnesses, taking depositions, and a million other important things.  Your whiney question about a case that won’t be going to trial for two or three years is not as pressing as the case set for trial tomorrow.

9.  There is nothing new to tell you. Many people believe that there are always new developments in their case, or that there should be.  In reality, most cases involve many periods of intense activity but also include many times of little or no activity.  For example, if you send interrogatories to the opposing party, there is probably nothing going on until they submit their answers a month from now.  If all discovery has been done and you are just waiting for trial, you could experience months of inactivity in a case just waiting to get in front of a judge.  If there is nothing to tell you, your call inquiring about the status of the case may not get returned until there is absolutely nothing else of any importance that the lawyer needs to do.

8.  You talk too much. Some people act like a lawyer has all the time in the world, and want to chat endlessly about trivial matters that just aren’t relevant.  Lawyers quickly learn which clients can be efficient and which ones are time hogs.  If you know how to get to the point, get your answer, and move on, your lawyer is much more likely to return your calls than if he or she knows that your call will go on forever.  Lawyers are busy, they only have a limited number of hours in a day, and they can’t spend all day listening to you blab on and on.  It’s nothing personal, you are just a waste of time.  If the lawyer starts the conversation with, “I’ve only got 5 minutes before I have to do X,” that may be a warning sign that you are a time waster.  Make your calls short and to the point, and you’ll hear from your lawyer sooner and more often.

7.  Your lawyer has issues.
Surprisingly few people do much research before hiring a lawyer.  This lack of diligence works out well for lawyers with substance abuse problems, mental illnesses, or a poor work ethic.  What do you really know about this person who has been entrusted with the most important matters in your life?  Statistics indicate that lawyers suffer from alcoholism and depression at rates significantly higher than the general population.    In fact, lawyers have the most alcoholics of any profession.  You may have hired a fantastic attorney who is swamped with work, or you may have hired an alcoholic lawyer who is too drunk to talk to you right now.

6.  Your lawyer screwed up. While still fairly rare, this does happen more often than people realize.  Your lawyer could be avoiding telling you the unpleasant truth that your case has already been lost.  How can this happen?  The most common way is that the lawyer missed a filing deadline.  If there was a statute of limitations on when your case had to be filed with the court and the lawyer missed that deadline, then you are screwed. Your lawyer doesn’t want to tell you because he or she doesn’t want to have to admit to committing malpractice.  So he stalls, delays, and avoids you until he can figure out a way out of this mess.

5.  Your lawyer is an ass. Most lawyers are not as bad as the reputation of the profession would lead one to believe.  In fact, most are ordinary people who just happen to be in a job that turns them into bitter, cynical asses who hate what they do every day.  Most started out with high aspirations for all the good they could do in the world as a lawyer, only to discover so much of the job is just doing the bidding of some of the sorriest SOBs on the planet (such as you).  This is very hard on one’s soul, and over time it can turn lawyers into rather unpleasant people.  Note: It could also be that he was already an ass before becoming a lawyer, in which case joining the legal profession is like living a dream for him.

4. You are not the client. It is absolutely amazing how many people think they have a right to know what is going on in other people’s cases.  Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, ex-wives, employers – the number of people who call lawyers wanting to know “what is going on” would surprise most people.  If you are leaving messages about someone else’s case and aren’t getting a return call, consider that the lawyer has no obligation to call you.  The lawyer doesn’t represent you, can’t tell you anything, and really doesn’t have time to argue with you about why he can’t tell you anything.  It doesn’t matter if you are the client’s momma, if you have written authorization, if you have a power of attorney for the client, or even if you are paying the bill.  If you aren’t the client, mind your own business.

3.  You are an idiot. This one is pretty self-explanatory.  You are a dumbass who doesn’t understand anything you are told, or who disregards it to do whatever you want to do anyway.  You are going to be getting into trouble for the rest of your life because you are just so dumb.  Seen those “stupid criminal” videos?  That’s you.  Your lawyer is tired of telling you what to do, only to watch you disregard it to indulge your impulses or because you think you are smarter than everyone else.  You aren’t.  No one likes to waste time talking to a moron.

2.  You won’t listen. This one often overlaps with “you are an idiot.”  No matter how many times something is explained to you, you ask the same questions over and over because you don’t like the answers you received.  You think that if you ask the same question over and over, at some point the answer will change into something you want to hear.  This isn’t your mommy saying you can’t have a cookie and finally giving in because you asked for it 100 times.  If you’ve been told the same answer a dozen times already, maybe it is because that really is the answer.  Since the lawyer doesn’t want to tell you again, he just won’t bother talking to you.

1.  You are an ass. The biggest reason that your lawyer doesn’t want to talk to you is that you are an ass.  You are rude, demanding, pushy, arrogant, whiney, and annoying.  You think that you can catch more flies with a flamethrower than with honey.  Your lawyer is the only person who is trying to help you, and yet you want to treat him like this?  Hating you is not a good motivator for trying to help win your case.  The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but it doesn’t get a returned phone call.  Try being polite and pleasant, and you’ll have much better communications with your lawyer.

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HerbInJacksonville February 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Amen! If you’re my client and I’m working for you on a contingency fee or a on a flat fee, don’t expect me to teach you everything I learned in law school. You are not entitled to a full explanation of every nuance of litigation strategy, nor do I have to explain my rationale for each individual interrogatory or deposition question. If you cannot comprehend the mechanics of underinsured motorist coverage after more than one hour of discussions over three phone calls, do not expect me to waste more of my time trying to explain it to you. Just trust that we are trying to get the highest damages for you that we can.

Now, if you’re paying me by the hour, I will take all of your calls if I am available. Even if the phone call lasts only five minutes, I will bill you for at least 15 minutes, because that’s how long it will take me to get back where I was in the other thing you interrupted.

Cletus February 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

You sound like one of the problems. You are not a God, you do not know all, and your constant use of words such as bifurcate, is the same as an E.R. tech saying, “hemorrhaging”; it does not make you sound important, much like when on a cell phone you halfway scream so that those around you will think, “wow! he is working on a case”. Most of you are scared to litigate for personal injury, and we all know that the paralegals do all, every bit of your leg work. After the above, you then wonder why last minute, simplistic things become a mess; they are written wrong and you (having no idea on exactly where things stand) could not fix them within the time frame left to meet a deadline.

PILawGirl February 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Amen to that! I have started to avoid looking at my Blackberry first thing in the morning because not only are the clients who just don’t “get it” calling me all the time, now they email me. It ruins my day.

Last week I was so frustrated I finally told someone “if there is a major break through on your case and by some miracle of God the adjuster called and decided to offer a million dollars for your 3k in meds, rest assured, I WILL call you, until then I’m playing phone tag with the adjuster at the moment, calling me every 20 minutes will not speed up the process”

Guess what? He called me 1 hour later, “I haven’t heard from you…..”

Really? I mean, really?

HerbInJacksonville February 25, 2010 at 10:33 am

And let’s not forget how much mobile phones have exacerbated this issue. Clients call you anytime they have a spare moment, whether in the car or at the mall.

Jesse Hawthorne August 28, 2011 at 1:45 am

I read all of that B.S above about Lawyers and clients but I have a back injury and no one will help me with the insurance companies. I have not been paid in over two months and then the insurance company paid me for half the time they owe and stated that I am not eligible to keep recieving benefits. I asked my attourney to advise me of my options on July 15th and she has not contacted me since and I tried to email her multiple times so what would you do if your back was broke and you cant pay any of your bills?

AceWagner February 27, 2010 at 9:10 am

This is the issue separating great lawyers from terrible lawyers in the public perception. The feedback I get from my clients all of whom I stay in constant contact is consistenly positive regardless of how their case is going. Lawyers do not understand this. Part of it may be the sales job at the front end to get the case, and when there is bad news or no news, the lawyer is ill-equipped to deliver it. Just pick up the phone! Your client just wants to hear your voice. By making yourself available, you will set yourself apart from the vast majority and get more clients based on referrals.

Tex Pepper April 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Amen!

My attorney does not return calls regardless but, at the same time, he is eager to collect his fees. I am currently in a custody battle in which new developments occur sometimes daily. Many of them quite serious (my daughter is being abused by her mother and I have forwarded to my attorney audio recordings my daughter made while it was happening, for instance). When there are new developments occur in which I require advice from my attorney, he doesn’t return my calls. My wife (daughter’s stepmother) called him the other day and asked how she can limit her own liability in this case. Seems to me to be a reasonable question to ask one’s attorney? No reply. The ball is nearly always dropped. Yet, this guy comes highly recommended. We just don’t get it and we’re getting desperate.

I was sitting in court last month and saw the most remarkable thing: this couple’s attorney was actually *communicating* with them. What a concept!

lacey March 16, 2010 at 10:01 am

Many clients refuse to pay you for the extra time for lawyers making phone calls and returning calls even if the retainer spells out phone calls will be billed. WE do divorce, bankruptcy and non contingency cases. If the client would simply ask how much do you charge for the extra phone calls and extra advice and paid it without a argument this would not be a problem at all for me. Also the client needs to get the point while on the phone with the lawyer and listen instead of going off target.

Charlene Dotson February 9, 2012 at 11:18 am

If a lawyer talks on the phone to the other person lawyer or other people involved in the case how would that be used in court? I thought the courts needed things in writing.

jds17 March 18, 2010 at 8:47 am

I rarely have trouble with clients that are calling too frequently. Most of the time if I keep my clients adequately informed about the case, they call me when they have a legitimate question or to update me on their treatment.

Honestly the most difficult clients I’ve ever had are attorneys that practice in a different area yet seem to think they know everything about medical malpractice or personal injury law.

I encourage my clients to contact me via email. That way I’m not put on the spot and I can time my response so I’m distracted from whatever fire is burning the hottest at that moment.

My $.02

Josh Silverman
http://www.wllc.com

Rick Rutledge March 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm

I’m surprised your list didn’t include, “You haven’t paid your bill (and you seem to think you don’t have to unless the case comes out the way you want, despite having signed a contract that states otherwise).”

BarbieLawyer May 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I won’t return your call because the last time I spoke with you ….you rambled and rambled about yourself and ignored my bill for having to listen to you talk about yourself. Best to let the lawyer do most of the talking, this is why you are paying him. He can tell you whats important and what is not.

Jesse Hawthorne August 28, 2011 at 1:51 am

And again I am asking a question that is a major concern and I need legal advise from my attourney who wont contact me back for over a month. The case is a injury at work case and I should not have to stress about the Lawyer and the insurance and the State. I worked for the State as a Correctional Officer and the doctor placed me off for 3 months now everyone refuses to pay I am 2 months behind on bills and she wont contact me. What would you do?

Staysha November 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm

It’s great to read something that’s both enjoyable and provides pramgatidsc solutions.

Betty Boop July 29, 2010 at 8:13 am

I have a city attorney working on a case, nuff said…Thank God I didnt have to pay her. she doesn’t acknowledge e-mails, or messages or info faxed. A simple I got it, thanks..Court date in less then 4 days and myself and the other party involved are still waiting to hear back. mini rant over :(

Ann Link July 21, 2011 at 11:35 am

Many of the complaints made by attorneys about clients have validity. Unfortunately, they don’t mask the pervasive, incredible arrogance and condescension obvious in this article and many of these responses. The fact that you have a law degree doesn’t exempt you from being expected to exercise professionalism, compassion, and patience. (Particularly at those prices!) I worked in government for fifteen years, and nobody–and I mean nobody, no matter how obnoxious or clueless they were–failed to get a return call from me within twenty-four hours.

Ed August 20, 2011 at 7:20 am

Reading a majority of the posts simply reaffirms the reason Lawyers are often referred to as bottom feeders. Unbelievable! Nice jobs of “Bashing” the people that pay your bills.

Rose J. August 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm

If you have a short question, send a check for some copies in your files and do not get them is that an OK thing?

Mike August 25, 2011 at 8:34 pm

A large majority of lawyers suck anyway. They shouldn’t have went into the field if they thought they would have nothing but time on their hands. Lets see, they take your money up front while giving you a great sales pitch about how great they are and all the accomplishments they have achieved. And basically…there went your money. You’ll be lucky to hear from them again. q. How do you know which person in a crowded bar is a lawyer??? a. They’ll tell you.

William L. Pfeifer, Jr. August 28, 2011 at 6:17 am

Attorneys have a professional obligation to return client phone calls. It is also simply smart business sense to stay in regular contact with clients and keep them up to date on the status of their files. Don’t misread this article for something it isn’t. This is not a defense of lawyers that neglect their files or ignore their clients. In fact, those lawyers are specifically identified for criticism in this post. But the main point of this article addresses a specific segment of the population that uses legal services – the overly-demanding rude and/or arrogant clients who lack professionalism themselves and who think their lawyers should be available to talk to them every day about the same topics over and over. This does not describe most clients. Most people understand that lawyers have a lot of work to do, and in fact most clients themselves don’t have the time on their hands to waste their lawyer’s time this way. I don’t think a single person I currently represent would be described by this article. This post is intended as a humorous piece, written for lawyers who have all had the experience of dealing with the PITA client who just won’t shut up and listen, or who can’t accept that sometimes the answer is no. Nonlawyers posting on this article will, if they stop and think about it, realize that they know people who match the described clients in this article. They just have the luxury of staying away from people like this because they haven’t entered into a contractual relationship with them. But EVERYONE has had to deal with people like this at some point in their lives. The practice of law is no exception. In my own law practice, I take a lot of time to explain the law and the relevant procedures to my clients so that they know how their case will work through the system from the start. Most lawyers do stay in contact with their clients. This article is intended to be a humorous tongue-in-cheek piece about specific reasons that really do exist that create the problem of lawyers not returning phone calls. As some of the items indicate, sometimes it is a problem with the lawyer and sometimes it is a problem with the client. If you identify too closely with some of the bad clients described in the article, then you should think about how to improve your interpersonal skills rather than just get mad that someone finally pointed out that you have a problem. For those of you who enjoyed the post, I appreciate all of the positive feedback I’ve gotten from this article, both in comments and in the many private emails I’ve been sent.

Cletus February 20, 2012 at 10:46 am

Rude? How about an attorney who holds three meetings, asking the exact same questions at each one? The kicker (not that this is not enough to stand alone as incompetent) each meeting was dictated aloud to a paralegal. This is the smallest example of the current wanna be Demi-God I am dealing with. I also think it is wrong to round out the last ten minutes of an hour pretending to care what is going on in my personal life, I have things to do too, I would rather she have said, “I am going to just bill for the hour”, instead of questioning me on my degrees, professional standing, and children. It was odd that her interest waned when the clock hit 3, ding, ding, ding. Not to mention this was the 3rd meeting, during which I was asked the same questions, VERBATIM that I had already been answered. Is someone padding the bill? You seem to take one meeting with an idiot, and transfer all of your arrogance to everyone. You are educated in (k)’s and have OTJ training. You are not on some super genius level of operation. To not practice due diligence is wrong,unethical, and in most cases against the standards of the BAR and the law.

donthatelawyers September 3, 2011 at 11:47 pm

After doing some research, I can see that lawyer do have a lot on their plate, and yes hourly people are going to get WAY MORE ATTENTION then flat fee/contingency…. thats just life

aARON September 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

A lawyer will return your call if you pay him. That is the key, if you are on a hourly retainer and you pay your lawyer, he will return your call. If it is a flat fee arrangement, you agreed to that, He will get your job done without returning every call.

Josh Benton September 13, 2011 at 1:10 pm

After reading this completed bunch of tripe, I am convinced that many of your readers including you the writer are the real asses.

Lawyers like any other professional or vendor are PAID fees for services rendered and if you can’t live up to that obligation, you should be holding your hand out for money.

pfeifer September 13, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Lawyers are paid to provide legal services, not to chat on the phone all day over and over with one client. When a lawyer is on the phone with a time-waster, he or she cannot work on that client’s file or on any other file. Which is more important, to let one person fritter the entire work day away blabbing on the phone about things that have already been discussed ten times, or actually doing work on the cases that the lawyer was paid to do?

I recall a particular client who may have been the worst about this. I pulled up to my office at 7:30 a.m. to start my work day and he was sitting outside in his car. He came inside with me and wanted to know if there had been any new developments in his case. I assured him that there had been nothing new to occur since the time I spoke to him at 4:30 pm the previous day. After telling me things again that we had already discussed, he left and I didn’t hear from him again until almost two hours later. He called while I was meeting with a client, and then called twice more while I was still meeting with that same client because I had not yet returned his call. I called him back, and he again had nothing new to discuss. Later that day he sent me an email checking on the status of the case, and then about a half hour later called the office because he had not yet gotten a reply to his email. Near the end of the day I sent him a reply to his email affirming that nothing new had happened in that time span (during this time we were waiting for the deputy to serve a lawsuit on a person he wanted to sue). The next morning I went straight to the courthouse for a hearing rather than go to the office, but I learned from my secretary that he was sitting outside the office when she arrived. After being huffy with her because I wasn’t there, he left only to call three more times that morning, leaving increasingly hostile messages with her and on my voicemail. The reason for his anger? That he hadn’t gotten a return phone call, even though I had emailed him at the end of the previous day that the defendant had not yet been served and even though he already knew I was in court conducting a hearing on someone else’s case.

The story of that guy goes on and on until I finally fired him and dropped his case because I was unwilling to put up with his behavior any longer. And this character was even paying by the hour, so he was getting charged for wasting my time and he still couldn’t stop doing it. The next lawyer he hired told me about the guy showing up at his house while he was still drinking his morning coffee at the kitchen table because he was not yet at his office.

Unless you have worked in a law office, you have no idea of the ridiculous behavior people exhibit. I often wonder whether these people would act this same way with their physician’s office. People don’t expect a surgeon to stop someone’s surgery to take a routine phone call from them, yet they expect lawyers to be able to chat on the phone while the lawyer is conducting a trial. If not being willing to put up with that kind of behavior off of a client makes me an ass, then so be it. I’m perfectly happy representing sensible people who don’t waste my time, and I am now much more cautious about who I will accept as a client than I was in the past so that I don’t have these problems arise any more.

n8whit September 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

The only time I feel the need to “hassle” my paid lawyer is after being in court and losing everything because my highly paid attorney did not show up on time to court or missed a filing deadline or worse yet, let the other party beat us to the filing even though my attorney was “working on it” way in advanced to the other party even knowing about it.

A. Wright October 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I hired a lawyer in February for a custody case and paid a flat fee for everything. It has already been paid completely. We went to one hearing in march and have another hearing in 3 DAYS!! I left a few messages after the first hearing to get the court papers and orders. I never heard back, so a month later i sent a few emails, never heard back. I started calling again in September and it is now 3 DAYS away from the next hearing and I have not heard ANYTHING from my lawyer!! I don’t even know if he will be in court with me? If he wanted more money wouldn’t he just tell me that? He said the flat fee covered every hearing necessary, but i would pay whatever he wanted if he asked. Would he just ignore me because he wants more money? That doesn’t seem logical and I haven’t done any of the things in that list, if anything i have not been persistent enough. Should I go to the office? Or ask one of the other lawyers in the firm? What do I do if he doesn’t show up at court? Will they continue it or will I have to fend for myself without a lawyer? I have new information about the case too and haven’t been able to tell him.

patricia October 28, 2011 at 9:39 am

I paid a retainer fee to my lawyer over a year and a half ago. My lawyer sent me a letter stating that he had requested my employment file. He also sent a letter stating that I did indeed have a case, in fact 3 or 4 claims. He met with me to tell me that I didn’t need to come back to his office and he would be in touch with me. I have not heard anything since then. It’s been several months and I have called to get updates, only to be told that he would call me back, and that my file was on a lawyer’s desk, but I have still not heard from anyone. Also I was advised to email him, which I did and still no response. ‘What should I do?

Sasha November 11, 2011 at 12:09 am

I have been harassed on my job for several years; I was there for 14 yrs. I hire a lawyer. He said he would negotiate a severance package for me before I got fired. However, I was fired after I file the lawsuit. My lawyer claim he got an offer of 5,000 and said the reason my employer is paying or did not dispute my unemployment…Is because they don’t want to spoil their reputation, and if I don’t take it my case will be dismiss. After paying him I can not have a civil conversation with him. I am afraid he takes my money and takes me for a fool. I did read about him, someone had complained about this same behavior…I guess their nothing I can do.

d January 3, 2012 at 6:49 am

Your client pays your bills. Your client may also be aware of the applicable ethical rules of your state. You may not want to talk to your client but you are going to dislike talking to the ethical board even more. You’d be on my short list for a quick call to your states bar association.

Jessie February 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I’m a paralegal, so I get to be the one to field a lot of the repetitive calls. I can attest to the truth of this article!

The best thing you can do to make your case run smoothly – and make your lawyer and his staff adore you and thus work extra hard for you – is to return calls and email from your lawyer or her staff, especially if they are requesting information. I have clients call sometimes demanding to know why something isn’t done yet, when the answer I keep giving them is “I can’t finish it until you provide me with X.” A good lawyer will have staff update you whenever something changes, and cc you on all documents coming or going from the office.

Sometimes things just take forever and it’s out of your lawyer’s control. The court may be slow, the opposing party may be slow, or the case may just be something that requires a lot of time. Sometimes, though, a lawyer is just bad at business. To become a lawyer, you go to school and pass a test. The test unfortunately doesn’t ask if you’re a disorganized jerk with no respect for his clients.

Jon March 23, 2012 at 11:12 am

Isn’t this what paralegals are for? I had one lawyer who’s paralegal kept me up to date with the occasional phone call and frequent emails. Another lawyer I have now, who I only call about once every 3 months, takes 2 friggin weeks to return my phone calls. It’s almost as if I have to remind her I’m still here. I realize lawyers have to deal with the scum of the earth but there still is such a thing as customer service. I will not be rehiring nor recommending my current lawyer basically because she took my money and then started goofing off.

Lawyers have worked long and hard to get where they are, so a lot of the excuses made in this article hold no water. Who the hell spends 7 years in College for a specific profession and is surprised by what they actually deal with once they’re working? The answer is a DUMBASS. In 7 years, if they’re too dumb to realize what the actual legal profession is like, they’re too dumb to be your lawyer.

Jab April 6, 2012 at 9:41 am

This is the most honest treatment of the subject I’ve ever seen. As a lawyer, though, I will add that we are obligated to communicate with our client and can get sanctioned by the bar if we do not. The best thing to do is schedule brief case update phone calls with all of your clients, or at least the ones who you think will care, every two or three weeks. That way, they don’t call you, don’t get angry with you, and if you are the one initiating the phone call it will only take five minutes.

I’ll tell you what infuriates me, is when a client fires his previous attorney and hires me, and then I have to get the client’s file from the previous attorney who, guess what, doesn’t return phone calls! Eventually I have to threaten to call the Bar on the other attorney until he eventually mails over his crappy, inadequate, unorganized file. No wonder you got fired.

AJ April 10, 2012 at 9:32 am

Sorry, Lawyers, but the fact of the matter is that your profession is bursting at the seams with parochial, patronizing, glib, unresponsive and cavalier assclowns. And, as with all things, the exceptions only serve to emphasize and prove the rule.

Generally speaking, there is a personality type attached to lawyers (much as is the case with engineers, architects, doctors, laborers, etc.). Unfortunately, most of you are pumped-out of the same incubator that doesn’t seem ‘warm enough’ to foster the growth of empathy, sympathy or a strong sense of obligation. The flip side of that coin is a hypertrophied sense of self-importance and power-seeking. Further, and not with out its irony and paradox, most of you are unreasonable and tend to pass the buck. Exactly once, I have met a lawyer that’s even remotely good at holding themselves accountable for something.

Some of you have irrational and irritating clients, yes; this, however, is not cause to not provide a jealous defense – your clients expect you to take their case as personally as they do.

I ultimately left law school and changed my career path because, for all intents and purposes, you are all the same, even before you pass the bar.

I would recommend a self-analysis of one’s character to most of lawyers, but knowing your type, you would find the very idea of that amusing.

SSF_ESQ July 3, 2012 at 9:37 pm

I am an entry-level attorney doing internships with experienced solo practitioners. I have to say, I can not stand up and defend the kind of work ethic that I’ve consistently seen. The senior attorney will sit down and talk with the client once, for about 5 – 15 minutes, in order to draft a retainer and start billing. Then he’ll hand off his work to interns / paralegals, at the lowest rate possible. They take on WAAAYYYYYY more cases than they can competently handle, because they can’t resist the money. The backlog gets to be amazing.

The guy I’m working with now has a revolving crew of unpaid interns, some of whom are overseas. Yes, he’s outsourced us! I have seen sooo many complaints that the guy never, ever, ever returns calls, that clients can’t keep track of their case managers, and that the cases linger for months or even years. I know for a fact that he is completely out of touch with his own cases. He charges flat fees, but also has a clause in the contract that if a client withdraws, he will be billed $375 / hr for what the unpaid interns did. Other attorneys I’ve known will bill for every second of client interaction, at exorbitant rates — $50 for checking your email, that kind of thing. Those charges should be made clear in advance, because they come as unpleasant surprises to the client.

It’s generous to say that an attorney isn’t answering your calls because he’s too busy with other cases. Attorneys tend to get caught up in litigation / business deals of their own, the marketing of their practice, and writing nasty letters to each other.

I’m discovering that what I lack in experience, I make up for in client skills. And it’s not really that hard. Keep the client basically “in the loop.” Show them a sign that you care about their case, not just their fees. I can’t overestimate the power of the occasional face-to-face meeting. Yes, I’ve had naggers too, but it’s almost invariably over one little thing that just needs to be resolved.

The takeaway lesson? Lawyers SUCK at customer service. I believe that they are long overdue for some competition in this field. I think I should get together with some friends and found a partnership called “Conscientious Lawyers.” We’ll take on the cases that we can handle in a timely manner. Those that we can’t handle, we’ll refer out — splitting fees can be pretty good money for little – no work. Each client will have a case manager who will stay in touch. The cheap labor that we hire will not be attorneys. They’ll be paid well enough to keep them there, and we’ll have a permanent “trainer” in the office. (Throwing associates work without training is another terribly rampant problem). We’ll be transparent — clients can see their own file when they ask. Our billing will be fair and fully explained up front. I know that lawyers routinely bill thousands of dollars for projects that involve filling out a few forms or maybe making a court appearance. There’s plenty of room to be a price-leader and still make good money for your time.

This is the age of online reputation, guys. If you stink at customer service, it will show up in your reviews. Conscientious lawyers can steal your business away. Maybe that day hasn’t come yet, but I’m warning you, it will.

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