Before I started my criminal law practice, I spent a a couple of weeks preparing: I read books, met with experianced lawyers, talked to local judges, and I even googled “how to start a solo criminal law practice.”
People have given me great advice along the way. The best advice given to me was that you should treat every single person–the lawyers, judges, bailiffs, clerks, secretaries, court reporters–with respect. When I first heard that, I thought “duh!” ”Why wouldn’t you be nice to everyone you work with?” But everyday I see new (and old) lawyers walk into courtrooms and act like they are better than everyone else. So apparently, the advice is not that obvious.
But, a lot of the things people have told regarding the practice of law are not obvious. For example, getting clients.
I often sought (still seek) advice on how to build a client base. In criminal law clients are either appointed to you by the judge, or a client hires you privately. Attorneys have shared with me several ways to get more clients. For example, one lawyer told me to put my cards in magazines and donate the magazines to the local prisons. Another lawyer told me to walk around the lobby of 201 and shout out random names as if I was looking for a client: the theory is that other people who need a lawyer will then realize “hey that guy looking for his client is a lawyer; I want to hire him.”
Then there is the obvious advice that if you do a good job for one guy, he will tell his friends. So I work my ass off for every client–whether its a driving case or a robbery. Its also important to note that in criminal law to get more clients, you don’t need a rowdy website. Clients don’t google me. Nobody has hired me because I am a social media maven (self-proclaimed maven is the best kind of maven).
Why do people hire me then? Is it my courtroom skills? Yes! Maybe that’s it. People must see me in court taking care of business and wait until I leave and then run me down because I was the best they saw in court that day and…yea, its not that. If taking care of business means praying I don’t completely mess up or vomit when I talk or have my pants rip or sound retarded or forget the rules of evidence and botch the whole operation, then, yes, I take care of business, every single day!
Its not my smile. How do I know this? From experience, that’s why. I read that smiling makes people like you more, and figured this would make people want to hire me. So one day I walked around 201 smiling. All day long I smiled—when I used the bathroom or drank out of the water fountain, gigantic grin across my face.
And yet nobody hired me that day. Worse my jaw hurt the next day. And still even worse than a sore jaw, my genius smile plan made me look like the dude from those ridiculous Cialis ads. At least I wasn’t whistling that ridiculous song from the commercial. What am I saying? I basically looked like a dumbass all day.
So how do I get hired? All kidding aside: I still don’t know. I do know that word of mouth is huge. There is no better way to build a client base than working your ass off for a client. Communication, clear and open lines of communication has helped me get more business. Also, clients—and this is solely based on my extensive 5 months of practicing—will hire me oftentimes when I am inside a courtroom, rather than when I stand with the other lawyers in the lobby.
But that’s not an absolute. I have gotten clients outside of the courtroom. Sometimes I walk around and pretend to look for a client, and one time I tried walking around having fake phone conversations with “clients.”
One time on the elevator, I complimented a guy’s badass Grizzlies hat and then he hired me. (He was a great client, by the way.) A few times clients have hired me when they see me visiting other clients in jail.
In short, there are no shortcuts or clear paths to getting clients. You have to put in time and effort. You have to go to court every single day. You have to love what you do because the days will be long and the pay sucks. Your clients, even the ones who received the best possible outcome in a case, will be unsatisfied and yell at you and accuse you of “jammin’ them up.” When you win, nobody will pat you on the back. If you are the type who needs “atta boys” after every win, then this is the wrong place to look.
Starting your own practice is hard. Your work, and the effort you put in, will go unrecognized. Clients will call at all hours and yell at you. Some prosecutors will bully you, some people will tell you failure is certain. You will struggle financially. You may fail. But if you never try, you fail by default–which is, as any good commencement speech on YouTube will tell you, the worst way to fail.
Nothing good is easy. Work hard, call your clients back and maintain good client communications, and be honest. Thats the best way to get more clients; and in fact, its really the only way.