It’s interesting how your brain locks on to certain things. Certain statements or events, that even though you experienced them early on, they will define your career both personally and professionally.
A few years back, I had the privilege of seeing Judge Trentacosta do a presentation. He was discussing ethics, and gave the statement: “Be honest, all the time.” I can still hear him say those words loud and clear, with lots of space so the audience could take in each piece.
I think about this a lot when dealing with potential clients. When the phone rings with a number I don’t have saved in my contacts, it’s always a happy dance because it could mean a new client. And that can mean new business. Although money may not be the most important thing in the universe, you certainly need it to run a business of any kind.
I’m still mystified when a potential client calls me. So I do all DUI defense, and for someone to find me, first (usually) they need to have been arrested. Then they either need to talk to someone that refers me, or they need to find me online. And the online marketplace is just hilarious, with so much competition and big money being tossed around for advertisements and pay-per-clicks.
But when you make that initial connection—the “do you do a free consultation and can I tell you about my case”—it’s a chance to honestly educate someone on the process, approaches, and legalities.
But here comes the fine line: when does the sales pitch stop, and the honesty come out? Or, do you flip it and start with all honesty, and then go for the sales pitch? Or, can you do BOTH at the same time? Well, just because you’re selling yourself does not mean you need to be dishonest and not forthcoming with all the goods and bads about someone’s case.
This is what I’ve found: You start with talking to potential clients like they’re people (gasp!). When someone calls me, they’re usually totally unraveled. Most have never been arrested before, and they’re just stepping out of jail, after a night of communal toilets, cold floors, and bologna sandwiches. So maybe the first approach is not to jump into how awesome you are, but instead, just let them talk about their experience. And from there, you can grab some info and bob and weave with the process. People appreciate when you listen to them.
But what to do with the hard questions: Can you win my case? Have you won a case like this before? What am I looking at? This is where the honesty comes in.
I’ve seen first-hand where lawyers will boast themselves up so much that a potential client will think they’re going to win every part of their entire case. And then when the chips start to fall, none of that comes true. Guess who gets angry then? The client. Why? Because they were misled initially. Or wait, I can do one worse: when the potential talks to a sales team, and then the case gets shopped to a lawyer who then has to tell the client the info from the sales team was way too aggressive and not realistic. Yikes.
If you’re honest with people up front, first they will respect you. It doesn’t mean you need to run away from tough cases. But it’s ok to tell the person, up front, exactly what they are looking at, how the case will be argued against them, what certain witnesses will say against them, how opposing counsel will argue against them, and how you can try to counter all of that. That’s what potential clients want to hear, if a realistic big picture, with lots of information and no pounding-your-chest-fluff.
If you keep the bar high, and if you’re honest 100% of the time, will you lose potential clients? Yep, absolutely. But it’s so worth it. You’ll sleep better, and your clients will respect that you shot straight with them. And there are times when the person who walked away because they were lured by a sale pitch will come back to you, because they trusted you.