The Talented Mr. Ripley is now a lawyer

Its absolutely conceivable that there are lawyers out there who have just started practicing in a field of law and they know all there is to know.  I see the claims when I google “Bankruptcy lawyers” a few times a week (Im a little OCD about my Google placement).  It’s conceivable when a lawyer tells you that they can “guarantee” you a particular outcome, he/she really means it.  The problem with that being that its unethical and violates various and age old legal cannons on advertising. The above are conceivable, but it’s also “conceivable” that Mila Kunis will finally realize her feelings for me and she”ll come by and…..whatever, Mila.   You see, I used to believe that the Bar Association didn’t understand the business complexities of being an attorney.  I still have issues with some of the rules, albeit small issues, but now, more than ever, I realize that there is wisdom in what was set down.  It was written so as to prevent what will no doubt happen in the next five to ten years due, in no small part, to market conditions.  Lawyers will become the “new” Mr. Ripley.

I read a book written by a colleague a few days ago.  The book is well written and on point and is like countless other business or marketing books that I’ve read.  It starts with a personal story thats meant to captivate you and grab your attention (marketers love that stuff) and then explains how lawyers (and other like minded business people) can hope to attain economic success by using social media, customer service, etc.,   Its a fine book, don’t get me wrong.  Was actually a quick read.  But everyone in this lawyer marketing room is basically saying the same thing and repeating it to each other over and over again and nodding their heads in agreement.  And it’s getting maddening.  They’re saying that if I want you as a client, I have to show you Im technologically savvy.  I have to show you that “I care and understand” (They typically use acronyms for these things-ROOM, CARE, MEOW)  I have to explain how Im different in order to prosper and have more clients and referrals.  How do I do that?  Well, if Im a Bankruptcy lawyer in New York, one of the ways I can do that is to write a book about Bankruptcy.  Why?  Because, you, the client, will no doubt be impressed that I have written a book on Bankruptcy, while the other 20 capable lawyers who come up below me in a Google search have not.   The problem with all of this noise is that the book doesn’t mean Im better at handling Bankruptcies than, say, the Bankruptcy attorney below me, who may be amazing at handling bankruptcies as well.  It just means I self published a book. You can do the same thing.   If I gave you a coloring book that I colored, you would no doubt respect my ability to work within the lines, but you would rightfully think I was psychotic.  But if I wrote some book about the same subject that 304 other people wrote a book about before me, then I’m a bit of an authority?   I don’t want to fake being an authority on something.  Remember Mike Brown, the FEMA guy from Katrina.  Yea.  Look, my point is that in the next few years you’re going to have to figure out whether we, as lawyers, are really what we say we are or if we’re just a construct of endless and for the most part, mindless, marketing.  And its going to be harder and harder to do because there are so many new ways in which were marketing ourselves.  You’re going to have to take a much more active role in getting through the potential smoke and mirrors and see if we’re really who we say we are.

Let me say that I’m just as guilty of this as the next guy. I market myself.  I have a nice brochure about fixing your credit.  I teach and lecture.  My website is ‘fancy-schmancy’.   I’ve even taught other attorneys about how to market themselves (which, in hindsight, is much tougher to do than initially thought).  But I mean what I say.  You shouldn’t just believe that though.  Just because I have some videos on my site and I tweet things and I wear those awe-inspiring pocket squares doesn’t mean I’m some great lawyer simply because I do those things.  Kick the tires (a metaphor, not a suggestion about the physical use of force in my office).  Read the reviews (although they don’t necessarily guarantee future results).  Ask around.  Do whatever it is you need to do to be comfortable with the lawyer you’re plunking down money for.  Now more than ever.  Just because he/she has a fancy website and some Skype links doesn’t mean he/she is going to handle your criminal case in an amazing way.  Just because they say they will provide customer service, doesn’t mean you should just believe they’ll do what you need them to do to make things more convenient for you.  Just because my website says “I care and will zealously represent you”, doesn’t mean I do care.  I mean, I do care, but you get what I’m saying.

Let me give you an example.  A suggestion came in from an outside company that I begin to do Skype Fridays.  What’s Skype Fridays?  On Friday, I would ask anyone to call in via Skype for a free consultation.  Some family members called and I hid underneath the camera on my Mac.  Thats about it.  But then I realized that you guys didn’t want Skype Fridays because you’re at work and your boss would find it, you know, weird, for you to be Skyping some lawyer.  So instead we just simply started Saturday morning office hours.  It’s been a success by any measure.  Because clients that we work with work like crazy and some of them only have Saturdays off.  The legal marketers would suggest Skype though.  They’d say I have to let you, the client (more and more its becoming ‘consumer’) know that I’m doing these really cool things with my computer to make things easier for you.  In reality, its not making things easier for anyone.  Im just listening to my potential clients and understanding how to make this process work better for you.  But just because I had Skype Fridays doesnt mean Im better than some lawyer who didn’t.

The legal field is getting more complex for lawyers not simply because of the ever changing law, but because we have to get business in this very very cut throat market.  There are more lawyers practicing every day.  But as we move closer to this eventuality of more attorneys vying for less business, please consider who you’re hiring because we’re just starting to get pretty wild with the marketing stuff.  There are now lawyers consultants out there who “coach” attorneys about effective ways get more business.  Seriously.  Which means that there are lawyers who are paying what I would say are extravagant fees to learn how to better connect with you and say “LOOK AT ME, IM HERE, IM HERE.  HIRE ME” .  Thats not to say that lawyer wasn’t amazing in the first place.  Thats not to say one lawyer is better than the other. It’s just somewhat distressing when the field has gotten so crowded that there are people that come in and have to help other people stand out in the crowd.  Again, Im a product of this.  I teach for a website which has some of these lecturers (and Im proud to do so, because I believe I differ in what I say and how I say it).   I marketed myself in ridiculous commercials when I first started.  I made tons of mistakes in the past trying to connect with you guys.  Because I really believed that I could do the work and do it with a passion that my clients deserve.

My piece of advice here is that you should always check under the hood (these car references are out of control). Just because the website is fancy, and the guy gave a speech to a Chamber of Commerce in Toledo doesn’t mean he’s the finest Corporate attorney out there.  Just because I wrote some brochure on credit repair, doesn’t mean Im the authority on it.  I’m not.  I know a ton.  And I can certainly help.  But Jean Chatzky (the woman who is constantly on NBC) may know more.  She might not.  Im just saying that now, more than ever, you should do some leg work before you decide to hire someone.  Meet with your potential lawyer.  Talk to your potential lawyer.  Ask him/her questions about, you know, the law and stuff.  I’m finding more and more that it’s tough to distinguish those who have any idea what they’re talking about with those who don’t.  And in a field where so much is on the line, thats a scary prospect.