So, I gets this call from another lawyer. It went something like this:
Other Lawyer (OL): Hi, this is _______ from _____, __. I’m an experienced litigator out here, and I have a client here who has a military law case.
Me: OK, great, I do military law cases.
OL: I know. I found you on the internet. So, what I need is for you to tell me how to proceed with his case, because I want to make sure I do it right. You see (rambling and overly-detailed description of case in which she shows that she clearly is not spotting the issues that need to be spotted).
Me: Ummmm, so, are you looking to refer this case to me or…
OL: Maybe, but right now I just need you to tell me everything I need to do to get this thing going.
Me: OK……..well, I really couldn’t tell you exactly what to do because I’d need to know a lot of specifics about his case, and we’d be on the phone for hours…
OL: No problem, we’ll send you all the paperwork, and you can look through it and tell me what else I need to know.
Me: Ummmm, OK, well, my retainer to take a case is…
OL: Oh, my client isn’t looking to retain another lawyer. I just need you to review his military paperwork and tell me everything I need to do. I may need to have you join a teleconference with my client. We may retain you to come onto the case if it goes to hearing.
I politely excused myself from the conversation by saying something about being late in applying my cat’s hemorrhoid creme.
Now, just so you know that I’m not a hard-hearted man, I do help other counsel with military cases. Why, just the other day, I spent almost an hour helping a friend to lay-out a motion in one of his upcoming courts-martial. Of course, he is a friend, and someone with whom I’ve collaborated and helped before. I even help those I don’t know well when they call and have very specific and tightly-framed questions.
I didn’t know her, and it seemed a bit presumptuous to assume that I would devote several hours of my time to her case for no pay. To me, it seemed both rude and professionally disingenuous.
So, where, as lawyers, do we draw the line between collegiality and freeloading?
One thing my edited dialogue did not show was that OL repeatedly told me that she is an “experienced litigator.” It seemed to be a nervous tick. She mentioned it approximately 10 times in the first two minutes of discussion. When someone repeats this during a conversation, I assume one thing: they’ve never tried a jury case. Ever.
Perhaps, when she does score a jury trial, she’ll find someone to walk her through the entire process, for free.