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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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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