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At the End of the Day, Who Comes Through For You?

by Carolyn Elefant on January 25, 2012 · 6 comments

in Encouragement

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When you start a law firm, you encounter lots of naysayers along the way. Yet while negativity is always unpleasant, at least when it’s out there, blatantly up front and in your face, you can simply walk away.

Contrast the naysayers with another sector that many solos and solos-to-be run into: the well-intended lawyers and clients and mentors who encourage and promise, but never deliver. Back in the day, when I started my practice, a few colleagues assured me that they’d keep me in mind for future matters, but never came through. Sometimes, they’d offer up this promise after I shared, without charge, advice on a specialized FERC or marine renewable energy issue as a matter of professional courtesy. Other times, they’d say that they were glad to have talented new lawyers to whom they could refer cases, but I never received any work – and on the rare occasions that I did, the case was a dog — like a client looking for pro bono help. Sometimes, a lawyer would promise to put me in touch with other colleagues for informational purposes and never sent on a name.

While I’m sure that many of these colleagues made promises with the best of intentions, I eventually learned to distinguish between those who would come through for me and those who weren’t going to follow up (or who, like one colleague, would send me cases that were complete duds). By drawing this distinction, I could plan my workload and predict my future revenue more reliably. More importantly, I could spend my limited resources going the extra mile for those who sent me real business or complimented my work to others rather than those who simply talked about it but never followed through.

So let me throw this question out: who’s come through for you in your practice? Are there lawyers who gave you paying contract work, even when they really didn’t need it or could barely afford the expense? Are there clients from your former firm who went out of their way to convince management to retain you? Are there colleagues who can’t stop saying how great you are and who recommend you every chance they get? I’d love if you would share your experiences, both the positive and the negative, in the comments below.

  • http://twitter.com/mitchjackson Mitch Jackson

    Clients and friends who I’ve helped (or tried to help) over the past 26 years. Family and friends. Fellow Rotarians. I try and share with young lawyers this well proven but sometimes difficult to grasp approach to life: Help others without expecting anything in return. Be genuine. Don’t have an an ulterior motive. Do this and good things will come happen. It may not be tomorrow or even next year. But good things happen to good people.  Mitch

  • Michael Haltman

    Great article Carolyn and this is the case in so many other fields as well. 

    I own my own title company and the art of having to distinguish between the true intent of providing business at some point in the future versus the intent to simply end a conversation by making a promise is an art that takes a very long time to master.

    I will let you know when I do! Keep up the great work.

    Mike

    Mike Haltman
    Hallmark Abstract service
    http://www.hallmarkabstractllc.com

  • Cindy Bassett

    Great article, Carolyn.  The concept is difficult to grasp, but an excellent weapon in our arsenal when starting up a practice.  I’ve moved from an urban practice to one in VERY rural Nebraska.  I learned that the people here are more straightforward about expressing their needs (great) , paying a fair price for expertise (even better) and freely sharing their good experience with others (BEST!). 

  • Anonymous

    Cindy,

    Thanks for the interesting observations about rural practice – yet another reason for lawyers to consider that option. Though I am also curious about whether your experience is typical of rural practice generally or just the community where you are located. Oh well – that’s a topic for another post or for Bruce Cameron at RuralLawyer.com!

    Carolyn

  • http://www.scdivorcelaw.com/ Melissa F. Brown

    Cindy:

    I recently signed up for your blog and am enjoying all your posts.  I understand the subject of your post and have encountered similar experiences on occasion.

    However, I am more blessed to have had lawyer mentors who not only took me under their wing and taught me the right way to practice family law but also hammered home my ethical responsibilities and fully expected the highest quality of written work as well as behavior.  These role models treated my “dumb”  questions as if they had merit; were patient with me; constructively criticized my work; believed in me and encouraged (sometimes “pushed”) me beyond what I ever thought I could achieve or accomplish.  Their efforts and interests were selfless. 

    I do not deserve their kindness or interest in me, but I am eternally grateful.  I can never repay these incredible attorneys for what they have done for me, BUT, I can pay their treatment of me forward by treating other young lawyers similarly.  

    Emulating my role models has not been easy, but I am doing my best.  I try to identify young lawyers who are motivated, passionate, interested and desirous of learning how to practice law the right way.   As an earlier responder noted, when such efforts are done without any expectation of a favor in return, the effort itself is rewarding.  And, as I mentioned, since I cannot repay my mentors, I still “owe” a lot of free time to other young attorneys.

    On a different note, early in my practice, some attorneys did send me “dog cases;” some lawyers expected me to handle their employee’s divorces for for free as a favor to them despite the fact that I was struggling to pay my rent and these same attorneys never sent me any paying clients; and attorneys whose empty promises were just that.

    As to the dog cases, I invited some of that work in the sense that I asked other attorneys to send me cases they rejected so I hold no ill will for those referrals. In fact, I have attorneys who ask me to send all cases I reject, even ones I think are terrible, to them b/c they prefer to judge of whether or not the case is good; and to those lawyers who always ask for favors in no return—well, it depends.  If it is an article or question of law I can easily and quickly answer, I happily respond.  If they want me to assist in writing their brief or hold their hand for the “honor” of helping them rather than for need for my experience, I ignore those e-mails.

    Bottomline:  I owe so much to others that giving back to younger, APPRECIATIVE (yes this quality makes a difference) lawyers, is a joy and I still have a huge debt to repay to those who gave me a treasure trove of advice and wisdom.

    Melissa F. Brown

  • Melissa F. Brown

    Cindy:

    I recently signed up for your blog and am enjoying all your posts.  I understand the subject of your post and have encountered similar experiences on occasion.

    However, I am more blessed to have had lawyer mentors who not only took me under their wing and taught me the right way to practice family law but also hammered home my ethical responsibilities and fully expected the highest quality of written work as well as behavior.  These role models treated my “dumb”  questions as if they had merit; were patient with me; constructively criticized my work; believed in me and encouraged (sometimes “pushed”) me beyond what I ever thought I could achieve or accomplish.  Their efforts and interests were selfless. 

    I do not deserve their kindness or interest in me, but I am eternally grateful.  I can never repay these incredible attorneys for what they have done for me, BUT, I can pay their treatment of me forward by treating other young lawyers similarly.  

    Emulating my role models has not been easy, but I am doing my best.  I try to identify young lawyers who are motivated, passionate, interested and desirous of learning how to practice law the right way.   As an earlier responder noted, when such efforts are done without any expectation of a favor in return, the effort itself is rewarding.  And, as I mentioned, since I cannot repay my mentors, I still “owe” a lot of free time to other young attorneys.

    On a different note, early in my practice, some attorneys did send me “dog cases;” some lawyers expected me to handle their employee’s divorces for for free as a favor to them despite the fact that I was struggling to pay my rent and these same attorneys never sent me any paying clients; and attorneys whose empty promises were just that.

    As to the dog cases, I invited some of that work in the sense that I asked other attorneys to send me cases they rejected so I hold no ill will for those referrals. In fact, I have attorneys who ask me to send all cases I reject, even ones I think are terrible, to them b/c they prefer to judge of whether or not the case is good; and to those lawyers who always ask for favors in no return—well, it depends.  If it is an article or question of law I can easily and quickly answer, I happily respond.  If they want me to assist in writing their brief or hold their hand for the “honor” of helping them rather than for need for my experience, I ignore those e-mails.

    Bottomline:  I owe so much to others that giving back to younger, APPRECIATIVE (yes this quality makes a difference) lawyers, is a joy and I still have a huge debt to repay to those who gave me a treasure trove of advice and wisdom.

    Melissa F. Brown

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