Failing To Always Be Closing

Today, I learned that lawyers should “Always Be Closing” in the Glengarry Glen Ross fashion. The assertion is that a lawyer’s primary focus should be on closing a deal and getting cash, check, or a credit card number. I have yet to see a lawyer with over 5 years experience (of actual law practice) who agrees, but perhaps they’re just dinosaurs who’ve lost sight of the cutting edge.

I don’t follow the ABC thing, either. That might make me a bad businessman. It may make me the antichrist of opportunism. It may mean that I miss on a big check or a 7-series. I don’t care.

It made me think of something that happened this week.

A potential client (PC) called me some weeks ago and explained his case.

Note: I didn’t just let him explain. I asked very precise questions and demanded precise answers. I didn’t let him ramble. I never let PCs ramble. I do this out of loyalty to my existing clients. My idea of a free consultation is a conversation controlled by me. It is not an opportunity for PC to get free advice. It is my chance to evaluate whether I can assist in a case, and how.

I agreed to take the case and quoted a fee (a sizable one). He agreed.

On Tuesday, I received a parcel with documentary evidence, a check, and a copy of the representation agreement. I set the check to the side and began reading the documents contained in the package. The documents contradicted what PC told me. What had been briefed as a winnable, fresh case was actually a case that, due to various pro-se actions, had a slightly less than zero percent chance of succeeding.

I could’ve cashed his check, spent time on his case to substantiate the fee, written some flowery and important-sounding documents, mailed them, and then act surprised in a few months after being told that we lost. I could’ve told him how the board deciding his matter were a bunch of rubber-stamp-idiots and bureaucrats who were clearly biased against him. In short, I could’ve closed the deal, bullshitted my way through a horrible case, and then make him feel like our valiant efforts were thwarted by evil powers-that-be.

I didn’t do this.

On Wednesday, I mailed him the documents, his check, and a letter explaining that I could not accept his money for a case that had no chance of success.

There you go. Proof that I’m a horrible businessman. Proof that I let dollars (thousands of them) slip through my fingers. Proof that I’m not capable of building what, for some, is a successful and lucrative practice.

And, I’m just fine with that.


8 thoughts on “Failing To Always Be Closing

  1. Good for you! I think most would agree you have exactly what it takes to have a successful law practice. Especially, if you measure your success by honesty and integrity. A man who has both those qualities is rich in so many ways.

  2. I’ve always maintained that refusing to take money when I know I can’t do anything for the client will, in the long run, work to my financial advantage. I’ve believed and acted on that belief for a couple of decades now. So far, there’s not a shred of evidence to suggest that I’m right.

    Still I persist.

    Einstein, I think it was, said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

    On the other hand, I can live with myself.

    • Without a bit of insanity, could we really be expected to do the things we do?

      I’ve even had PCs get extremely angry when I told them I wouldn’t take their money or case–even when I said I would be ripping them off if I did so. I told them they have a better chance of winning something if they use the money to buy a few thousand lottery tickets.

  3. Yes, I’ve done the same thing and then wondered if I was losing my mind…especially when I see some lawyers retiring while I work on…but these are the choices I’ve made.

  4. Here’s a lying PC who has ruined his own case through his pro se work, and then came to you to “fix” it. Everything would be blamed on you, possibly he’d file a grievance, and his malevolence would continue forever. Congratulations! You did well.

    • In his case, I think he was also a bit mentally ill, but, of course, that would only increase my pain in the long term.

  5. It’s funny, I had the same experience this week. Right before I read Rachel’s article, a potential client came into my office. She had money and would have paid me. After chatting with her for about an hour, I told her the truth – she didn’t need me. Maybe she would down the road, but right now there were better options that didn’t involve paying a lawyer. I told her to explore those options first.

    In Rachel’s world, perhaps I should pulled out my whiteboard, figured out how much money I wanted to make this month, and then focused on “closing the deal”… instead of doing what was in the PC’s best interest.

    • You know, I’ve always used my whiteboard to map case strategy, develop trial courses of action, track checklists for upcoming cases, etc. Little did I know that I could use it to track how much more money I needed to milk from potential clients every quarter. Boy, was it refreshing to see that my old whiteboard wasn’t the one-trick-pony I thought it was.

      Now, if I could just figure out the math she was using. Subtraction, right?

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