All The Ridiculous Things Your Lawyer Doesn't Want To Hear
(and the answers we wish we could give you)
For the longest time I believed that “there is no such thing as a stupid question.” However, experience has taught me that there are exceptions to every rule, and probably none more so than this one. Stupid questions and thoughtless remarks abound in our society. Maybe it’s a sign of the times.
Serious inquiries from the public, other lawyers, members of the medical professions, financial planners and anyone else are always welcomed and indeed encouraged. Nothing here is directed at anyone coming for advise or assistance, whether it is to accept it or to offer it.
Over the years this list has changed. The best example of this is email, which used to be a sure sign that the Client really wasn't interested in services. Now email communications are routine.
Most of these unsolicited comments involve money, and why I shouldn’t get any for my work. Tell that to the next waitress you meet and I bet you’ll be wearing your breakfast on your shirt. Lawyers are the only people who (A) are obligated to give away their expertise for free according to the rules of their own profession, and (B) are constantly reminded how dishonest they are and how worthless their services are, to boot. If I was to visit every Tires Plus in the United States and badmouth the mechanics I’d end up being put in a rubber room. But, like the joke says, 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name. Gee, thanks…
So, by way of lighthearted enlightenment I now present my candidates for the most ridiculous things I have heard over the course of my legal career, and, heaven help us all, the thoughts that pass through my mind at those moments when I think that maybe I should have majored in auto shop.
You're an arrogant ass for writing this page!
This was a new one. I'd never gotten a nastier email from a total stranger. He went on to excoriate his former Attorney for charging him "extra" for filing fees and Court costs. Well, first of all, I'm not the lawyer you're complaining about. Maybe the guy's lawyer assessed an abuse surcharge against him. How do I know? Secondly, Nothing on this page is directed at anybody in particular. If anything I say here makes you uncomfortable you're free to click the little "x" in the upper right hand corner of your screen.
Are you a lawyer?
This really isn’t that bad unless it’s asked on the office phone line. Closely related is the perennial favorite, Is this a law office? Maybe the fact that we answered the phone “Law Offices” should have clued you in.
Do you charge?
Now, this one gets me every time. Notice it’s not “What do you charge?” which is a reasonable question. It’s also not “Will this cost extra?” which is also in fair territory most of the time. Nope, this one is “Do you charge at all?” Nah, I’m secretly related to Bill Gates and I don’t need the money.
That's a lot of money . . .
Then there are those insanely frugal people who call the office, spend twenty minutes explaining that there is a multi-million dollar Settlement or a six-figure investment account or a five figure bank account that's interfering with their child's receipt of benefits, admit that the spend-down of the money would be a terrific waste of resources, and then refuse to pay my reasonable fee for the Special Needs Trust that would conserve the funds in order to maintain their child's quality of living. "But if I give you that much I won't have $100,000 anymore!" Well, that's true, but you'll have most of it, as opposed to having nothing if you have to spend down the money. And what's worse, your child won't have anything either. I assume most people think that their child is priceless . . . So please, if you're reading this: Don't try to save a buck where your kid's life is concerned. Go without that Vente Latte for a few weeks instead.
Why do you charge so much?
The problem with this question is that it always gets asked in situations where we’ve already prevailed and the Client is about to get her money, and usually a pile of it. Basically, this is a form of buyer’s remorse based on the fact that the product you bought and paid for worked really well. You just won fifty thousand dollars and now you don’t want to pay the FedEx bill? Give me a break, lady!
Why do you charge so little?
Some people just can’t be satisfied. Unless they’ve mortgaged the Taj Mahal they don’t feel that they’re getting their money’s worth. Look, if you really want me to charge you extra I won’t mind. Really. It’s OK.
Do you give discounts?
To me, this question always smells like an old shoe store. As a matter of fact, we aren’t a shoe store.
Can you refer me to a lawyer?
I am a lawyer.
I need a Special Needs Trust, but you're there and I'm here, and it's so far away. Can you refer me to a Special Needs lawyer in the Land of The Lost?
You can practically count the members of the Special Needs Bar on your fingers and toes. And you can count the number of Special Needs lawyers who really know their stuff on one hand. The odds that a lawyer at all familiar with Special Needs Trusts is going to be down the block and around the corner from you are pretty low, especially if you think that Yeehaw Junction is a big city. I might be able to refer you to someone, or I might not. I might be able to help you myself. I'm always thrown for a loop when a potential Client in these circumstances says, "But I don't know you at all." True, but then why is trusting my judgment on a blind referral over the telephone any different than finding out if you want to work with me? Let's talk. The irony is that you've found this site on the Internet, that you've gone to the trouble of reading through it, that you've thought enough of it to email or call me for advice, and now, after all that, you want me to send you somewhere else. Personally, I'd rather be the one to help you. I can't vouch for anybody else the way I can for myself.
You greedy man. Why do you want to take money from that nice old man/nice old lady/nice young girl/disabled person/child/hardworking joe/single Mom just for getting the insurance company to pay that claim? That’s exploitation!
But if I don’t make a dime and my family doesn’t eat this week then that’s all right, I suppose.
I'll have to cut your fee.
I'll have to cut your throat. This one was uttered by an Attorney who hired me to do some work on spec, and then got stiffed by his Client. Although my contract was with him and not said stiffy Client, I guess he figured I wouldn't mind if he shared the joy. I did mind. By the way, I got a certified check for the full amount sent by courier the next day.
How come you don’t know (or never heard of) Lazarus “T-Bone” Culpepper? He’s been practicing law for 500 years!
This is another favorite of mine. Given that there are 85,000 lawyers in Florida the fact that I don’t know them all personally doesn’t make me a less competent attorney. And lest we forget to ask: How long has he been dead?
My brother-in-law was the biggest criminal attorney in the smallest county in New York State and he says you don’t know what you’re talking about!
Who cares? I bet he wasn’t licensed in Florida. And the guy has usually been retired twenty years and never handled a civil case in his life.
My brother-in-law is an accountant and he says you don’t know what you’re talking about!
Have him call me after he goes to law school and passes the Bar exam.
My brother-in-law will be sitting in on our consultation.
Over my dead body. There are few things worse than the know-it-all relative who tries to act like he knows what he’s talking about. He usually ends up sounding like Felix Unger on The Odd Couple and creating more problems than he solves. Oh yeah, and since he isn’t the lawyer he could always have done it better, cheaper or faster, don’t you know? Since he isn’t the Client I reserve the right to throw him out of my office, bodily. Through the window, if necessary.
Why should I believe what you’re telling me?
Well, since you came to me for my professional expertise let’s assume for a moment that I know what I’m talking about. Hey pal, would you ask your oncologist this question?
My Financial Planner said the documents you created are worthless!
Where 's my gun? I have an admission to make. I feel about most Financial Planners the way a lot of people feel about lawyers. In part, it's because any schnook with a free weekend and a couple of hundred bucks can take the course to sell Health and Life Insurance and can anoint himself with the crown of a "Financial Planner." Said schnook can then believe he can render legal advice. After all, he's at least as qualified to do so as your Attorney, who sat through the Law School Admissions Test, three grueling years of law school, and a nightmarish multi-day Bar exam on which s/he staked his/her whole future. Certified Financial Planners ('real' Financial Planners) usually aren't that much better. Most of them are glorified salesmen whose grasp of legal concepts is fuzzy at best. I promise I won't sell insurance if they promise not to practice law. Worse than that, there's a substratum of Financial Planners who'd sell their own mothers at auction, delivered C.O.D. I have had literally thousands of these guys call my office and wax rhapsodic about how much money "we" can make, if I'd just take "twenty minutes" to drive to their office in Orlando (a six hour round trip from Fort Lauderdale) to teach them about "Special Supplemental Revocable Inter Vivos Trusts" (this was genuine Financial Planner gibberish from a real person). Then there are the yahoos who call up and tell me that they need a Trust for their brother (I usually don't realize these characters are scamolas until they send me an email from Yackenflaster@Franklinfastbuck.nut two days later saying they've changed their so-called mind). Every Financial Planner in the world seems to have a disabled sister somewhere. Unfortunately, they've now also got my copyrighted materials. And, oh yeah, these materials are so "worthless" that I've successfully sued some of the largest financial management firms in the world for stealing them. In all the years I've practiced law I've only met one Financial Planner I would recommend. Hi Bob!
What do you mean you won't give me a free consultation?
If you've read through this website you've had the equivalent of the best free consultation I can provide. Most free "consultations" last between fifteen minutes and forty five minutes and are intake meetings where you get to ask all about the particular Law Firm you're visiting, but surprisingly little about your own legal problem. I was present at a "We Always Give A Free Consultation"-type consultation one time where the lawyer was so distracted that he never actually parked his carcass in a chair and looked the client (who was me) in the eye. Needless to say, I was not impressed. To this day I wonder what would have happened if Ben Franklin and his Clone Army had suddenly popped out of my pocket. I'll bet the guy would have sat down real fast. The free consultation is the red-haired stepchild of my Personal Injury brethren who advertise, "If we don't win you don't pay!" It isn't appropriate for all areas of law. Paying your lawyer for a consultation sends the message that you are serious about your business. Since so much of what this Firm does is highly specialized Trust work, the information exchanged by you and me in the initial consultation is at the heart of what we're going to do together. It has value, and should be valued. Sorry, but if you want the milk you will have to buy this cow. You get what you pay for.
Can I make copies of these documents?
A little common sense goes a long way, folks. No, they’re prepared with disappearing ink and if you copy them they’ll explode, too. A far better question: Can I use copies of these documents in place of the originals? That one has legs.
Is it okay to remove the staples to make copies of my Will?
It had better be, otherwise you’re gonna break the machine. This was the prizewinner for Question of The Year 2007, hands down. See above.
What do I get for paying my Retainer (or: What comes along with my Will)?
You get whatever is specified in the Retainer Agreement. Oh, and you get a subscription to “Boys Life” and a secret decoder ring, too.
How many Trusts do you do a week?
This question is actually far more obnoxious than it sounds when you think about it. What difference does it make how many of anything I do in a week? Uh, less see…four dis week, and two las’ week. And none de week before, sorry. Is that okay wit’ you? Asking me how many Trusts I’ve done in total is a far more sensible question and at least it goes to the issue of my overall professional experience.
Why do I have to sign a Retainer? I thought we were friends.
Some friends become Clients. And some Clients become friends. But this question usually comes from an outraged Client I’ve seen maybe four times who once told me an off-color joke on the phone. We’re friends? Great! Because I’m gonna drop my kids off at your house for the weekend. See ya Monday!
Give me the names of some of your Clients so I can check references.
ALL of my Clients are entitled to the same confidentiality you are. That’s my rule. And it’s also the rule of the Florida Bar. We don’t disclose any identifying information. Period. Give me the names of some of your creditors so I can check references.
Have you ever been disbarred?
No I haven't. Have you ever been in a Turkish prison? This is the worst question ever, except maybe for Eve asking Adam, "Want?" All troubles radiate from this question like the strands of the web of a particularly poisonous spider. And think about it for a moment. Would you be sitting in a lawyer's office---would he even have an office---would he even be a lawyer---if he was disbarred? People who ask this question are the type who call Animal Control on nursing kittens. They're just itching to make somebody else as miserable as they are. There were never enough red flags in Soviet Russia to raise on this. It's an ill wind. Hit the silk.
All you lawyers are crooks.
So what are you doing in my office?
All of you lawyers are rich.
The sad thing about this one is that it’s really a disguised ethnic slur. I know plenty of working lawyers, and some of them are even of a certain non-majority faith. When I graduated law school they only handed me a diploma. They musta forgot to give me the three million dollar check.
I had to fire my (five) former lawyer(s).
That Attorney didn’t charge me anything for the Probate.
This remark is usually followed by a reference to the Attorney’s and/or the Client’s religiosity. It’s really just another disguised ethnic slur. I usually answer, “That was his decision.” What I’d really like to say is, You disgust me, you self-righteous %$@&#!
That Attorney gave me back part of the fee.
This remark has two separate secret answers. If the Client is your basic garden-variety type, it’s Really? What did he do to screw up your case? However, if the Client is young and attractive it’s She wanted to sleep with you Einstein, that’s why!
If we lose, I get my money back, right?
Never mind the amount of time and effort I put into the case on your behalf. Please tell me you’re not serious.
I don’t like Doctors. And I don’t like lawyers.
Pure Condo Commando gibberish. Get away from me, you!
Is that your new Mercedes parked outside? Glad to see my money’s being well spent. Ha, ha!
This kind of crack usually comes out of the mouth of a small businessman who owns a Mercedes himself. Apparently, the idea of a lawyer actually enjoying the fruits of his success turns some people’s stomachs. I suppose we should all be driving Yugos, or something. No, I had to borrow your wife’s car today. My horse ran out of oats.
I guess you’re tickled sitting here doing nothing with the clock running.
Spoken whenever a Client and lawyer are in the courthouse waiting to be called into Chambers by the Bailiff. This one really is irritating. After all, we wouldn’t be there if somebody weren’t a royal pain in the keister to begin with. Actually Marvin, I just can’t stand to be without you. Trust me. I always have something else I could be doing.
Will this Will be good in Nicaragua?
This is a quintessential South Florida legal question. The answer all depends on whether the Probate Court (or its equivalent) in Managua will recognize the Will as valid, or at least as indicative of the intent of the Testatrix. There might be a Statute on the books down there invalidating any Will but one drafted by a Nicaraguan Abogado. To be honest, I have no idea. This is the kind of question that demands a simple yes or no answer. I’m dying to know myself. But the only answer I can give you right now is Why don’t you give me two weeks all expenses paid in a beachfront villa and I promise I’ll check with the Nicaraguan Courts as soon as I get out of the Jacuzzi. An easier question to answer is Will this Special Needs Trust be good in Nicaragua? Since the Trust is based entirely on a Statute structured entirely in regard to a U.S. Government program, I doubt it. But why be a gloomy Gus? Why don’t you give me two weeks all expenses paid in a beachfront villa and I promise I’ll check with the Nicaraguan Courts as soon as I get out of the Jacuzzi.
I've already done some of the research/I've written my own Trust/I want this provision in my Will: 'In the event Bob and Carol and Ted and I predecease each other...'
Educated and/or very intelligent people tend to make the mistake of thinking that just because they can do heart surgery or market Trump Tower or turn Yen into Yuan into Euros into Dollars or rebuild an engine in an hour, they can write their own legal documents or manage their own legal matters. Seems simple enough, right? "It was just a one paragraph document" or "That lawyer seemed so reasonable." They usually find out they can't after they've already said the wrong thing to the wrong person and tanked their case. The truth is that if just anybody could do this stuff we wouldn't need lawyers. But we do. Lawyers spend years learning how to research and write in what's essentially (and sometimes literally) a foreign language. Res Ipsa Loquitor*. I don't care how long Perry Mason has been in reruns, you can't learn law from watching TV Land or even Court TV. You just can't. If you don't do it right, then usufruct**.
If you could only show me a case that supports what you're saying . . .
This is another comment often made by educated and/or very intelligent people, and it really points up why lawyering should be left to lawyers. The only time cases determine the shape of the law is when the existing Statute or Common Law needs interpretation. If there's no problem, then there's no case. And the law might not explicitly say yes to what you want, but it doesn't say no either. Your issue's not addressed at all, which means we can go there. If there ain't a "No Trespassing " sign then it ain't trespassing, Clem. There are Clients who just won't accept the lawyer's thought process and then, of course, this becomes just another form of Why should I believe what you’re telling me?
Can you guarantee that this will never be challenged?
There are people out there whose job it is to challenge your position. They're called other lawyers and they're called bureaucrats. Even if we do everything right there's no rule to stop them from questioning what we do. In such a situation, we'll probably win, but guess what? The law changes. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes fast. It's like life. There are no guarantees. I can't guarantee that I'm going to be alive in ten minutes. So, I have to say, Sorry, no, I can't.
Do you know anything about…?
This can be a good question, as in “Do you know anything about the law in regard to obtaining a concession to build an offshore oil drilling platform in the North Sea?” To which my answer is, “Nope!” It can also be a good question as in, “Do you know anything about filing a Petition for Emancipation of a Minor?” I can answer, “Yep.” But it can be a bad question, too. For example: “I understand you do Estate Planning. Do you know how to write a Will?” Or, “Do you know anything about reading a Contract?” Whenever someone comes up with one of those, I always think of that line in A Few Good Men: Sorry, but I guess I was absent the day they taught law at law school.
I took care of the problem myself.
Oh, no! I can never understand people who go to the trouble of hiring a lawyer and then try to solve their own problem. First of all, they rarely solve anything. They usually make it worse. If they do solve anything it's usually because the other side got intimidated when they got my letter and caved in rather than fight (and no, I don't refund Retainers in that situation since I'm still ready, willing and able to go forward). A lot of times I have to go forward, because the minute I'm not in the picture, the other side becomes disagreeable all over again. The crown princes of these do-it-yourself'ers are people who call and tell me they've done their own legal documents---"My Wife is on life support, so I made up a Health Care Surrogate. How? I copied her signature from the Will . . . yes, the Will you did years ago . . . Yes, I just photocopied your Notary page . . . Well, you wanted that extra $100.00 dollars back then . . . No, I can't go to prison for this, I'm her husband! A Felony??? You won't tell, will you? What about Attorney-Client privilege? What do you mean it doesn't apply when I've told you I'm planning a crime? It doesn't? A Guardianship? Okay, I guess. I'll come in tomorrow. Hey, are you going to charge me for it?" I'm not making this up, folks. This was the hands down winner for Question Of The Year 2010.
How do I know you’re really a lawyer?
Some remarks aren’t deserving of a secret response. This Charm School Special goes along with Why should I trust you? and How do I know you’re not going to steal my money? and I don’t want to sign this Retainer Agreement. One potential Client actually wanted to take the Retainer Agreement to another lawyer for a review because I had written the Agreement all by myself and she didn’t know if it was any good. After I asked her who she was going to take his Retainer Agreement to, I said the only thing I could say under the circumstances: Thank you for your interest but I’ve decided I don’t wish to represent you.
Can I pay this out?
AKA the “Forced Discount.” Every time I get suckered into doing this (usually with a good sob story) I never see the second payment. Or the third. Or the fourth or fifth. By then I’m so deep inside the Client’s case that walking away strains the bounds of legal ethics. And it never fails---the Clients that get the better of me always, always have the worst, most complicated cases. So despite my better nature, the secret (and not-so-secret) answer to this is No!
That's an awful lot of money to lay out for a Bankruptcy. Do you take Visa? Or can we set up a payment plan?
I kid you not. This was in the running for the Question of The Year 2007, and would have beat out the "Staple" guy, except that too many of our studio contestants tried using it. As a matter of fact it was the "I want World Peace" of Bankruptcy Law. The answer isn't as secret as it is subtle: "Wasn't Casino a great movie? What did you think of that ending???"
I need pro bono.
After years of giving 50% of my professional time away pro bono publico, I have developed very specific limitations on my pro bono practice. To be honest, turning some of these people away really stinks on ice. Just like with some of the payout crowd people, people who really need pro bono usually have legal problems that will consume hundreds of hours of my professional time and make it impossible for me to earn enough to keep the office open. Plus, they’ve usually ignored the problem until it’s blown up in their faces (they have a Writ of Garnishment in their hands), or it’s often a no-win situation (their autistic son is a wrongfully accused sexual predator). Listening to some of their stories is heart-rending. Of course, then there are also the types that want pro bono for a parking ticket. You need pro bono. I need a drink.
You have to take this Contingency.
I blame this one on my colleagues who have those cheap “Have You Been In An Accident?” commercials on the local access cable channels. They’ve promoted the idea, consciously or not, that ALL legal problems can be handled with a Contingent Fee, or that they can get you out from under a massive IRS lien for eight bucks. Like divorces. The Bar forbids Contingent Fees in Family Law matters, but of course, there’s always a would-be Client that calls and tells me that “the other lawyer” said this could be handled on Contingency. Good, so why didn’t you hire him? One Client wanted to know if I could do an Estate Plan on a Contingent basis. “What’s the contingency? When you die then I get paid?” And she seriously wanted to know if we could do it that way.
Attorney Jones said this case is worth at least $100,000.
Also known as the “Bait and Switch” or “The Chutzpah Dance.” The guy who says this usually doesn’t want to spend a dime on his own behalf, not even Costs. But he doesn’t mind if you do. As a matter of fact, let’s make a deal, Mr. Attorney: “I’ll pay you 50%, not just 33% when we win.” Sounds great, right? So why didn’t Attorney Jones jump at it? Where’d I put that box of Milk Bones?
Mr. Farkel said I wouldn't need a lawyer.
Considering that Mr. Farkel is the man who is suing you I wouldn't want to go bail on it. And if you do, you'll probably have to. Closely related to this are The Real Estate Agent said I wouldn't need a lawyer and Mr. Ed said he'd explain it to me and The guy at Social Security said you should have done this and The lady at the Motor Vehicle Bureau said you made a mistake when you did that. I don't get it. Why do people insist on getting their advice or directions from the very people who are trying to make sure they don't get what's coming to them? It's an easy rule to remember: If somebody goes out of their way to tell you you don't need a lawyer that's exactly when you need to pick up the phone and call one. You hired me to help you. So let me do what you paid me for.
But on Law &* Order don't they...?
This question isn't really annoying, it's actually kind of endearing. Some people forget that Jerry Orbach wasn't a real cop and Sam Waterston isn't a real prosecutor and that the scriptwriters on that legal show (and others) have gotten creative with the Penal Code and the Rules of Evidence from time to time. That's why it's called "entertainment." Is Detective Benson really coming here to frisk me? Oh happy day!
You’ll have to lower your fee.
You’ll have to call another lawyer.
I’ll call you back (I have to discuss this with my husband/I have to discuss this with my wife/My father said he’ll pay your legal fees/I have to do more research/I have to ask my friend who’s a lawyer).
C’mon! Be honest with me, willya? I promise I won’t get mad at you. This one is a pet peeve of mine, and this pet's got distemper. No matter how long I practice law I can’t let go of the tooth- grinding annoyance---no, rage---I feel when I hear this. When I hear somebody give me this spiel, I beg, God, please let me jump through the phone. Just this one time. Any mention of spouses, other lawyers, further ‘research,’ or third-party payors invariably equals: “I’m not interested but I’m too chicken to say so to your face.” Once, just once…!
I have a few questions.
This can be a perfectly reasonable remark, and it usually is. The Client pays for my time and I answer their questions. Or people call with a question or two before they decide whether or not to go forward. That's reasonable. After all, it's fair to ask "Do I need a Trust?" before shelling out your hard-earned money. However, there are always people who feel justified in abusing an opportunity. I once had a potential Client exchange 40 (!) emails with me playing the “One Last Question Before I Sign” game before she suddenly decided not to go forward. Like poker, the game has several variants: “Attorney Johnson wrote this document. Can you glance at it for me to make sure she did it right?” ,“I’ve been talking to this other lawyer and she said . . .”, “I went to Attorney Jones and now I need a second opinion”, and “I’m thinking of hiring Attorney Smith, but I was wondering if you’d explain what he told me.” God forbid I mention a Retainer: "But I already paid the other lawyer!" Then why should I bother?
Hi, I'm a Mom . . .
Sometimes Clients turn out to be Financial Planners or even other lawyers seeking information, usually by getting their secretaries to call. I can't for the life of me figure out why they feel they have to put up a charade. For some reason this opening line is a dead giveaway. So is the fact that "Mom" won't tell me her name or her number or give me any information at all. I've had more than a few major financial and legal firms make calls like that. They usually forget that the company name or firm name appears on the email header or Caller ID. "Are you the Mrs. Mason? How's Perry doing?"
Can you send me a sample document to review?
This is a question that's popped up once or twice over the years. I've come to the conclusion that this is another charade perpetrated by a certain segment of the Financial Planning community and other less-than-ethical people who call themselves lawyers but are a stain on the profession. This one is the Alpha and Omega of the sleaze scale. There's no such thing as a "sample" legal document, only a legal document that hasn't been completed yet. They're called "drafts," and no, you're not getting one unless you send me some sample U.S. legal tender first. It's attempted theft of services, pure and simple. Does it say "idiot" on my forehead? ' Cause it says "thief" on yours.
Is it okay if I come to your office just to talk about my case?
This is another way of asking for a free consultation. Any consultation consists primarily of "just talking" about your case. But to this type of Client the word "just" translates to "for free," as though "just talking" (as opposed to "talking" ) is not an expenditure of my professional time and expertise. A word to the wise: It is. Meeting with you is a part of the job you're hiring me to do. Imagine going to work one day and having your boss tell you that you aren't going to be paid for the hours between 10:00 and 12:00. How would you react? They say that talk is cheap until you hire a lawyer. Well, you can tapdance on my desk just as long as I get paid for my work.
I've been calling around all morning, and I have a quick question. I have this Child Custody Court Order and I need to know if I can take my son out of State to visit his grandparents in Nevada, and I was wondering if you could tell me...?
Did you notice if they slipped something into my coffee this morning? This was a real telephone call, and my nominee for Question of The Year, 2009. What does a person like this do? Have a brainstorm at two in the morning and say to herself, "If I call my divorce lawyer, he'll bill me. Hmmm. I know what I'll do! I'll just randomly call up any old lawyer in the phone book and ask him a ridiculously complex legal question about a case he knows absolutely nothing about in the hopes he might say something I want to hear. " When I told her she'd have to make an appointment and pay me a Consultation fee, she snorted and hung up. I never felt luckier.
Are my documents ready?
Yeah, I know. How could such a reasonable question be worthy of this list? I'll tell you how. When the Client calls within less than 24 hours after the Consultation, and then calls twice a day, every day to 'motivate' me, that's how! No, and the more you call the longer it will take. Are you satisfied? I have many clients, and they're ALL deserving of my attention.
Why didn't you call me back?
Another question dressed up as the Grandma in Little Red Riding Hood. This is only truly aggravating when it gets asked within ten minutes after their first call. Clients who call incessantly are the bane of a lawyer's existence. Sometimes we really are in hearings, depositions, trials, the bathroom and the building cafeteria. It's a commonsense rule of thumb that calls made at 6:00 P.M. Friday, 2:00 A.M. Saturday, the Fourth of July weekend, or between Christmas and New Year's probably won't get answered right away. What I can never grasp is why some people are surprised that they got the answering service at 4:00 A.M. I was abducted by space aliens late last week, but I'm back, and none the worse for wear. Surveys have actually shown that the failure to return telephone calls is the most common friction point between lawyer and Client. I agree that failing to return calls is rude, and I try to call my people back within 48 hours. Sometimes that's not even possible if I'm involved in giving Expert testimony in Seattle that week (for instance), and can't keep to my normal schedule. I WILL get back to you as soon as I can in such a situation.
It's an emergency!
"Why didn't you call me back?" isn't good enough for some people, who unfortunately use this as an attention-getter. This had better be good. What constitutes a legal emergency, anyway? Very few things actually. An arrest qualifies. So does a sudden illness where you need your Advance Directives or Will on hand. Beyond that, not much else. There's nothing more frazzling to get than a non-emergency emergency call, especially at one-thirty in the morning. So when you say it's an emergency, make sure it's an emergency, not just a "How's my thing going?"-type call. You will definitely be on the bottom of the call-return list after you do that.
No Call No Shows
Clients are the lifeblood of our profession and the source of our sustenance, so no lawyer likes cancellations, and most lawyers will accommodate a Client twice over to reschedule an appointment. Cancellations happen. It's a fact of life. And whether it's a scheduling mistake or a sudden emergency or simply that the Client can't afford the fees, all Attorneys appreciate a call telling them that the Client won't be coming by. There are very few acceptable reasons for a cancelling Client not to call, such as an emergency hospitalization or the Client's death. I even had a rescheduling Client who brought me his hospital paperwork. I hadn't asked for it but I was impressed with his consideration, and we went on to work together very successfully. I've had Clients cancel appointments for reasons I feel are highly inappropriate, such as the would-be Client who told me, "If you voted for Obama I won't hire you," or the inquiring mind who asked improper questions about my views on political and social issues. I refused to answer. These people didn't keep their appointments. I wasn't disappointed. There have been people who have called the office on Jewish holidays to see if we were open. These personal issues are no one's business, and have no bearing on the work we do in this office. People like that need to go elsewhere. But there are some (thankfully rare) Clients who never show, never call, and never respond to our inquiries as to why: "Did you get lost?", "Are you well?", "Do you wish to reschedule?" No response. They simply disappear, never to be heard from again. That's alarming. I do care about a person's well-being. But it's also downright rude and grossly inconsiderate. After all, I have scheduled my work day, my work load, and even my personal time around the anticipated appointment. Being a No Call No Show says more about the type of person the would-be Client is than anything else they might say or do, and it says nothing good. "------------!"
This is a particular subset of the "No Call No Show" population. I'm going to be very blunt: If you ever want anybody in the world to be nice to you ever again, then DO NOT DO THIS. I don't mean don't do it to me; I mean don't do it to anybody. Runaway Brides are Clients who call up or show up, go into a seemingly endless explanation of what their needs are and why they need a lawyer. They then ask for a Retainer Agreement. They may even sign one; but---they never go forward. They "forget" to bring their checkbook to the Consultation, or they "assume" the Firm takes Credit Cards (it doesn't). The Attorney-Client relationship then degenerates into a never-ending string of excuses: "The check is in the mail," and "I'm bringing it to your office," are the usual comments. One gent insisted for weeks that he was "right around the corner, and I'm dropping the check off now, so wait for me." It's three years and I'm still waiting. I really am getting the feeling he isn't coming. Another guy showed up, went for his checkbook, acted surprised ("Oh, I must have left it home"), and then parked himself in the office all set to talk over his case. I politely gave him a few minutes. He never came back. Sometimes a Runaway Bride will come back months later with the excuse that his kid got pulled into the time-space continuum vortex and he's been out of town mounting a rescue operation, and---Wouldn't you know it? He must have left his wallet on Fomalhaut VI ! One Client, bless her, managed somehow to cut herself while writing out the check, and handed it to me dripping red. It was, literally, blood money. And then she refused a band-aid! Some Runaway Brides are truly irritating, like the ones who sign Retainer Agreements but never pay. Yet they always tell the other side that you're representing them. Whoops, did we forget something here? The problem with this situation is that the opposing Counsel will then advise the Court that the Runaway Bride is represented, and then I have to spend time advising the Court (in writing) that I'm not in fact doing any such thing. Unraveling that mess can take hours---hours I'm not being paid for. Hours I have to take away from you, the paying Client. Runaway Brides are expensive. Last but not least, there's the Runaway Bride who goes all the way to the Altar and vanishes---Usually because "I don't have the money to pay you." If that's the case, then why are we all dressed up? Being honest right at the outset is a far better choice, and then, when you are ready to work and do have the money, I won't have a bad taste in my mouth. Over the years it's occurred to me that most Runaway Brides have no respect for other people, their time or their effort, or their intelligence. I want Clients that want to be Clients. This is how I support my family. If you aren't serious or you really don't have the money right now, please don't waste my time. Okay?
Just as Clients are put off by lawyers who don't return calls, lawyers have a problem with Clients who don't return calls. It's rude. And not only is it rude, but it can be harmful to your health. A certain percentage of people ignore calls as a way of answering a question. Ignoring a call is not an answer. Then there are those people who fall off the radar screen. A Client who abandons his case isn't doing himself any favors. The Court and the adverse party probably haven't abandoned it, and the Judge will merrily issue Orders, grant Motions, and enter Judgments in the opponent's favor in their absence. And, without the Client, I can't do a damn thing to stop it. So if you're going to Nepal for the next eleven months, or you've decided to let the chips fall, at least let me know. There's nothing worse than a Show Cause Hearing for Contempt where a Client doesn't show up, and the (properly) irritated Judge does something like issue a Writ of Bodily Attachment (that's an arrest warrant, my friends) for you. And that's no joke.
* Latin: "The thing speaks for itself."
**From the Latin (again): Usufructus ( lit. "using the fruit of"). In Civil Law systems, the legal right to use the property of another for profit.