How Accessible is Too Accessible?
I heard once from a solo practitioner that it was a huge liability to be too accessible to one’s client. “Always keep a distance,” he said. Although I do agree in part with that idea, I also think it’s important to be somewhat accessible to one’s client, without giving away too much.
Some attorneys feel perfectly comfortable giving their personal phone numbers to their clients. I prefer having an answering service that screens my calls. Thus, I have a special phone line dedicated to business use. In my experience, when clients had my cellular phone number, they felt entitled to my availability at all hours. This would then intrude with my desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance, as I would respond to clients at all hours, including weekends and after hours.
Recently, I had a client who insisted on working with me, despite the fact that I was too busy to take his case. I referred him to two other solo practitioners. One gave the client an ultimatum on getting in touch with him. The other attorney called him and reached out, even though the client was hesitant. Eventually, the client chose to go with the latter, the attorney who had reached out to him. When I spoke to the client yesterday, he told me that he just didn’t feel comfortable being given an ultimatum.
The same thing happened a few months ago with another client, where the client felt like he was being “talked down to” when I referred him to another attorney and was extremely grateful that I took the time to speak to him about the nature of probate and a will.
In the end, my dealing with the client depends on my gut instinct regarding the client. I have my initial screening process, which usually involves having the client leave a message on my automated service (and soon, with a receptionist, if all goes well). If I feel that the client is “price-shopping,” then I will usually charge for the consultation. If, however, the client is interested in my services, I might provide a half-hour free consultation. In my practice, I simply don’t have the time to work with price shoppers, and, often, the price-shoppers are the more difficult clients to deal with on the case itself.
I guess what I am getting at here is that the level of my accessibility really depends on the client. There is no hard and fast rule on lawyer accessibility when you are a solo practitioner.
As a member of both the New York State Bar and the California State Bar, Ms. Ansari has a broad range of legal experience. She has worked on civil litigation on numerous cases ranging from small trademark infringements to large scale corporate litigation. She also had the chance to work on a high profile criminal trial involving FBI interrogation practices. She currently manages her own law office ( www.ansari-law.com) and practices tax law, with a focus on nonprofit law. She also helps clients with tax planning, business planning, estate planning and tax controversy. She is a member of the ABA Section of Taxation, Committee on Tax Exempt Organizations, the ABA Young Lawyers' Division, and the Bay Area Young Tax Lawyers.
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