Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to Ask Lawyers for Legal Help (Or For Professional Services in General)

Those of you who are lawyers are bound to appreciate this. In fact, anyone who's constantly being bombarded with expertise requests where strangers ask for freebies are going to love this one.

If you remember, I'd pretty much not bothered with doing much legal representation since some very horrible experiences with clients taking advantage of me by not paying me for my services & treating me with disrespect. Other people just went MIA but they're not part of this discussion. Those things I mentioned are huge in creating ill will & making a lawyer really hate the general public.

Very recently, I found myself the recipient of referrals & requests on legal stuff. I even read this article that discusses why attorneys shouldn't be working for free, even in this bad economy. Before that, I was talking to an acclaimed acting coach who's worked with celebrities & we got into this very conversation about people asking for freebies.

Let's make a few things clear right off the bat:

1. My legal expertise is a personal thing connected to ME, the person. I don't work at a law firm or own one so if you want me to do you a personal favor, you'd better be taking a personal interest in ME.

How can you do this? You could follow me on Twitter (or at least follow me back if I follow you, which rarely happens; otherwise, I get pissed since that's a form of disrespect in my book & I don't reach out to just anyone there). You could send me a LinkedIn connection request. Even though I don't prefer this, you could even send me a Facebook friend request.

You could also read this blog. In fact, I strongly encourage people wishing to network with me to read this blog since it will tell you whether I'm the right fit for you. If my having a personality & not judging others is an issue for you, I'd rather you not waste my time. If my having a backbone & a sense of ethics bothers you, you definitely don't need to be dealing with me. Trust me, it will save you a lot of time & headaches.

Making that personal effort is going to make me far more motivated to bother caring about your issue or helping you. When you don't do this, I've got zero motivation to care about you or your issues.

2. Do not ask for a freebie in someone's area of expertise (mine included). Unless you fall into one of the following categories, you will piss off any professional for doing so:

A) You're in a networking group with the professional where the professional has made a choice to help you. I myself don't mind doing this sort of thing for entertainment colleagues since I'm choosing to help or not.

B) You're participating in a volunteer project I'm part of. Attorneys have no problems with clients in an organization or program they've signed up to help people in. Most people pick causes they personally care about or have a connection to, though the fact that NY is going to impose a 50 hour minimum pro bono requirement as part of the admission process may very well change this.

I'd like to think, though that most attorneys doing those programs actually care about the people that come in. If they don't, they are pretty stupid & too masochistic for their own goods.

C) You're friends with that professional & not asking for something labor intensive or that takes up lots of time. Real friends don't take advantage that way. If you'd not be willing to do the professional equivalent for that friend, don't ask that of your friend. It will build resentment.

3. Don't make it personal. Attorneys in particular have strict rules & professional ethics requirements. We have to tell you that we're not your lawyer w/out a retainer agreement; we also have to put things in writing. If you don't like that, you're not capable of working with a professional & treating that person with respect. These are standard to my industry.

Any smart freelancer also puts their business transactions with clients in writing.

4. Be an adult. That means listening to what a professional has to say, thinking about what you're told & giving the person room to apply their expertise.

Some people will be collaborative with you & involve you (which I personally think is a good idea & like doing myself) but while you may be involved, that doesn't make you more skilled than the attorney. One experience prompted me not to represent anyone who thinks they're an attorney b/c they've had legal training that wasn't law school.

This also means treating the professional as you'd like to be treated. Would you want me undermining you or leaving you to hold the bag if I asked you about something? Want me to question your expertise at every turn? If that's not something you'd want one of your clients doing to you, then maybe you shouldn't be doing that to the lawyer (or whatever professional you're dealing with).

Attorneys in particular have been burned out by this mess. Your altruism & sense of compassion fades real quick after you get a client or two doing those sorts of things to you. If you think this doesn't happen, go talk to some attorneys & you'll get an education.

5. Finally, if you have another attorney involved in your company & you're using me so you don't have to pay his/her prices don't even bother unless you're offering equity and/or an in-house or junior attorney title. It's just offensive, insulting & creates confusion. If that attorney's not supervising me & is listed as "in-house counsel," then why am I present?

A newbie might be okay with "getting experience" but professionals don't need to do that so free work is nothing but slavery to them. Keep in mind that even new attorneys have a market value that's not $0.

If you remember nothing else from this, remember this: Don't ask professionals for freebies!

I also can't offer referrals to my attorney contacts if you want a freebie. If you genuinely can't afford legal services, then you either have to take what you can get (which may be a new attorney who is learning your area), go to a volunteer organization or do it yourself. Long time vets can offer to work with you or do a freebie but if you walk in asking them for one, they will get offended.

Attorneys & anyone with a high level skill aren't minimum wage workers. They are not slinging burgers or doing simple tasks a child could do. They are using professional expertise, likely acquired through tons of student loan debt & may have to pay a fortune to keep licenses. If you wouldn't pay your doctor the same rate you'd pay a Wal-Mart cashier, then you'd better not be doing that to a lawyer. I don't care how much you hate lawyers.

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