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Getting Clients

published May 29, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 30 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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If you join a corporation, government, or some other organization where your paycheck comes in regularly, you will not have to worry about how to get clients. But if you are considering opening up on your own, or are going with a firm that expects you to bring in business, this article is meant for you.

Rather than working long hours at low pay for someone else, you might be much better off putting all that energy into something you were developing for yourself.

A good time to start is when you just get out of law school. Most likely, you will be single then, and other than perhaps a big loan to repay, you really do not have many obligations. If things are a little tough in the beginning, remember that the potential is great. Think as early as possible about a place where you want to practice. Even a year or more before graduation is not too soon. Look over various locations. Get the best office your finances will permit. If you have money, be sure to set some aside to carry you for at least a year. If you have none, you have little to lose.

I am not suggesting that you go into something as serious as this without doing some deep thinking, but I do want to point out that the problem is not insurmountable.

If you do some careful budget planning, and write up a detailed formal business plan, you may be able to borrow money from a local bank branch to help you get started. If you can convince the banker that you have a future, and are convinced yourself that it really is there, you are a good candidate for a loan. If the bank has invested in you, there is a good chance that it will refer business to you. The busier you are, the more secure the loan is. Every day, bank customers ask their bankers to recommend a good lawyer for some problem they need handled. Additionally, the bank has a lot of small business which its regular counsel is not set up to take care of properly. For example, there are a number of guardianships under various state and federal programs which require annual accountings to be filed in the local county court. For propriety, the bank prefers to be represented by independent counsel when it asks for a fee out of its ward's guardianship estate. Sometimes the relative of a deceased depositor will ask the bank to act as administrator of the estate when there is no will. In that case, the trust officer of the bank has the discretion to choose the lawyer to handle the case in court.

Package Deals

Be sure to send out announcements to all your relatives, friends and acquaintances. As soon as you pass the bar, you will receive mail solicitations from printing companies offering package deals for announcements, letterheads, cards, bill forms, and so on, which can get you started.

One student I knew was certain she would be opening her own office right after she was admitted to practice. All through law school she kept a card index of practically everyone she ever met or did business with, even down to the checkers at the supermarket. When she sent out her announcements, she took the time to add a handwritten personal note to each one, such as, "Still remember that pleasant talk we had at Jan and Bill's open house last fall. Drop in and say Hi." She never solicited business, but so many people appreciated her friendly manner that she got a number of them as her clients, and many more referred clients to her. Within a fairly short time she was running a successful law practice.

You never know where clients will come from. My first client is a good example. It was right after World War II. When I opened my office, I had few tangible assets. My wife, my young son and I were living in veterans' housing that had been converted from officers' quarters at a recently closed air base about twenty miles out of town. We had no car. Anxious to get to work early on the first day, I got out on the highway about 6:00 A.M., long before the first bus, and wearing my blue suit and carrying my empty briefcase, took the Thumb and Shoe leather Line to the office.

A friendly elderly farmer in a pickup stopped and gave me a lift. He asked what I was doing all dressed up so far out of town. At first he could not believe that I was really a lawyer. Then, after we talked awhile, he said he admired my determination and asked me to give him some cards so he could send me some business. I carefully gave him one, from the hundred I had received in the special mail-order stationery packet, hoarding the rest for later rationing to other potential clients. But he wanted a lot. Three were not enough; five were not enough. Finally, ten satisfied him. As he let me off in front of my building, he wished me luck and said I would definitely be hearing from him.

To say things were slow at the office that day would be the essence of understatement. When I called my wife at noon, I put on a brave front so she would not be discouraged. Although no one had been in yet, there were still five hours to go. And then, at exactly 4:00 P.M., the door opened, and in walked a straw-hated, Levi-jeaned, cowboy-booted man accompanied by a heavy-set, heavily made-up lady in a low-cut flowered dress.

"I want to buy my girlfriend a divorce, and my boss said he met you this morning and you were the lawyer to go see to get it done."

After a discussion in which I obtained the necessary information and explained the procedure and length of time it would take, we got to the matter of the fee. I quoted the minimum suggested by the local Bar Association schedule, expecting to get a retainer, with the balance to be paid when the services were completed. To my pleasant shock, he took out a roll of bills and paid cash for the whole thing. It was more than enough to pay all the office expenses for a month. I was on my way.

Organization Route

Some lawyers go the organization route. They join every society or group that will take them in. Because of their training and experience, they quickly get on committees and soon become officers. The weekly meeting exposure and status make the members remember that they are lawyers, and it is rare someone does not come up and ask some legal question. Most of this banter is for free; however, quite a bit turns into something which brings in a client to the office.

An excellent source of business is teaching a "Law for Laymen" course at an evening high school or community college. Although a lot of students are really trying to get advice about their own problems, your answers to their questions, and the very fact that you are the expert giving the lecture, makes you the great oracle. Most will come to you professionally when they have a serious problem and will also tell all their friends and relatives what a great lawyer you are.

At the risk of overindulgence, a lawyer who hits the bars selectively every night on the way home from the office picks up a lot of business. One might go to the same bar and stay for a couple of hours, buying drinks and just being a good guy. Another will go to three or four, staying for a drink at each. Regulars at bars seem to need lawyers more often than most, or have friends and acquaintances who do, and thus are the source of many referrals.

The church lawyers achieve the same end in an entirely different way. They and their wives are heavily into less "profane" activities, and because of the high status and respect they receive, the congregants look to them as the only lawyers to go to when legal problems arise.

Some lawyers get their clients from people they meet jogging; some from playing golf. It does not seem to matter as long as the lawyer is in a place where a number of people over a period of time become used to the idea that "this person is a lawyer, and if I need one, or know someone who does, I will recommend this person to handle the problem."

Since the Supreme Court has declared that all persons charged with felonies must be provided with lawyers if they cannot afford them, many counties now have public defenders who handle cases for indigents. Frequently, there is a need for additional counsel to represent a codefendant because of possible conflict of interest between them. This means that the court must appoint an outside attorney at county expense. Besides the money you will get from these cases, the experience is invaluable. These people are your clients, just like the others you get in the normal course of business. Along similar lines, check into whether you can be appointed to represent a criminal defendant on appeal. Many states pay appointed counsel to prepare and argue the briefs in those cases.

A number of lawyers prepare income tax returns for their clients. Often this is the first contact many people have with a lawyer. Many will need wills prepared in the future, or will need other legal services during the year.

Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Do not overlook the word-of-mouth advertising you can get from your present clients. I once drew a will for traveling salesman as he was passing through town. He asked me to keep the original in my safe, but wondered how his relatives would know about it if anything happened to him while he was on the road. I gave him a couple of my cards to send to one or two of them, and also gave him one to keep in his wallet. Each had the following message typed on the back: "In case of accident, serious illness, or death, please contact my lawyer named on the other side of this card."

Beginning about three weeks later, I started getting a steady stream of new clients from all over the state. It seems they would mention some legal problem in the course of a conversation, and this salesman would suggest that they see his lawyer, who was so concerned about his welfare that he had him keep this card in his wallet just in case anything happened to him.

Another time, a man and a woman came in to have a partnership agreement prepared. One had a lease on a piece of ground; the other had the equipment necessary to cultivate it. They wanted "a partnership without clauses." What they meant, of course, was an agreement which an ordinary layperson could readily understand. I prepared something in simple language which started out like this: "Mary Smith and Charlie Jones want to form a partnership to grow corn. Mary has the lease on eighty acres at the corner of Marshall and Bradshaw Roads. . . ." The completed document did not have any whereases, therefores, parties of the first part, or other wording which many people think is necessary "to make it really legal." All the required elements of a partnership were there, but in language which was completely intelligible to them. Word soon got around, and I achieved some local fame as the lawyer who could draw "partnerships without clauses." This one agreement led to almost fifty like it each year drawn for people who wanted "plain talk."

When people wanted extra copies of wills to send to relatives, I gladly supplied them. Frequently the recipients came into the office with business of their own. This once had interesting repercussions. An old pensioner I knew came in for a will. He told me that he had lived very frugally for the last ten years and had been able to put a little bit of money into the stock market each month. His investments had paid off big and he now had over $200,000 on deposit in several savings and loan accounts. He wanted to divide it all among seven nephews and nieces. I prepared the will and, at his request, sent copies to each of the relatives named. Some months later, he left the community.

A few years passed. He showed up smoking a good cigar and dressed in a fairly nice suit. He said one of his nieces had given him one that no longer fit her husband. He then told me that he had lied about the money on deposit in the banks; he really never had a dime. But he had been visiting each of the seven nephews and nieces on a rotation basis and life had really been great. Each of them had been trying to outdo the others in hospitality, always hinting that it would be nice to get a larger share of his estate.

Positive Effect

Be aware of the subtle positive effect professional certificates hanging on the walls of your office can have on your clients. Did you ever hear someone say, "My attorney is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States"? I will let you in on a little secret. Any lawyer who has been admitted to practice in any state for three years or more, and who is in good standing, can become a member of the Bar of the United States Supreme Court merely by filling out an application obtained from the Clerk of the Court, having the admission proposed by two other lawyers who are members, and sending in the required fee. In the old days, it was necessary to actually go to Washington, attend a session, and take the oath administered by the Chief Justice. Today, it can all be done by mail. When you get your three years in, get your certificate. Even if you have do not have your own office, at the very least your parents will be proud.

To fill up your walls, you can get all kinds of certificates admitting you to practice before various federal administrative agencies. Check them out.

Some years ago, in the exercise of a hobby to temporarily get away from the daily stress of practicing law, I carved a statue out of redwood, "Supreme Court in Action," a cast of which is now in the Supreme Court Museum in Washington. I gave one to Chief Justice Earl Warren, who I understand kept it in his chambers until his death. My own cast was proudly on display in my office until I retired from practice. It bears an engraved plate in the center giving the date of my admission to the Supreme Court Bar. Also, there are four smaller plates, each listing the name of one of the cases I argued before the Court.

A number of lawyers throughout the county, even though they have not actually argued, also have casts in their offices. While the statue is exhibited as an art piece, it does quietly direct clients' attention to their admission in a dignified manner.

When you do get admitted to the Supreme Court, and you happen to be in Washington, go to the Court library and register as one of the members of the Bar. This gives you access to the privileges of that library, and you can use it for research while you are in town. Check with the librarian for further details and benefits.

Running for some political office gives you terrific name recognition, and whether you win or lose your supporters usually remain very loyal to you and refer clients for a long time after the election has passed.

If you have the money to spend, paid advertising can be quite rewarding; however, check this out carefully. Many lawyers do not believe it brings results unless you have a big budget for the ads.

Whatever method you adopt for attracting clients, choose one that fits your personality. You should be comfortable with both your methods and the clients you obtain by them. The group you appeal to will be the basis of your law practice. May good fortune follow you as you wend your way through law school and the bar exam into many happy years of practice.

published May 29, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 30 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.