It’s late afternoon when the phone rings in my office. I don’t recognize the number, but I answer.
“May I please speak with Mr. Seaton?”
I identify myself.
“Hi I’m (name omitted). You probably remember me. We went to school together way back when, I wanted to see if you were available for legal services.”
I pause here to let the reader know this line is one every single fucking attorney hears on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s a case of mistaken identity. Sometimes people just lie. Regardless, the line is an attempt to establish familiarity with the attorney, and worm into the lawyer’s good graces.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“Well I…” This is the point where the prospective client then begins a long-winded spiraling tale about his or her woes, usually at a rapid fire pace in an attempt to get free legal advice on their issue. Phone calls like this happen all the time. Newer lawyers will stay on the phone with the prospective client and eagerly share their hard-earned knowledge. I have shit to do.
“Wait a minute,” I respond. “I want to make the best use of your time, so let me ask you a few questions.”
I ask the questions I need to determine whether I take the case or not. I tell the caller my policy on consultations, discuss the fee for the consult, and ask when they’d like to schedule.
“Well, I have to talk with my spouse, and it’s almost Christmas, and…”
Again, I pause to let the reader know the Christmas line is just that. A line to signal the quoted price for my time is too high, and an appeal to emotion wrapped in a nice little phone blurb. Again, I cut the caller off. I give the caller three available dates and times, and let the caller know when they speak with their partner and decide a time I’m eager to help.
“Thank you. We’ll be in touch.”
I’ll most likely never hear from this person again.
The caller meant well. They were conditioned through a series of advertisements from bigger law firms about how the consultation would be free, how their problems would be answered with one phone call. They have a false expectation in their minds about the delivery of legal services. It’s all supposed to be free, and the person who takes the case does so because they have a boatload of money and are just in this profession for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
Except we are people who like to get paid for our work too. We have overhead, costs, and sometimes staff to pay. Once all that is paid, we have to put food on the table for our families and pay for our home expenses. Those who can’t or don’t get paid end up finding another line of work. It’s as simple as that.
My time is valuable. So is the person who calls. That’s why I developed a system over the years of learning how to cut through the weeds, get to the point, and let the caller know I’m available when they’re ready to pay. Absent that, there’s no point in staying on the phone when others who have paid, who earned my time and attention, need my help.
When you call, be prepared for a short call. It’s not that I don’t want to hear your problems. It’s there’s only so many hours in the day, and so much work to do.