Are you a bulldog?
This was the subject line of an e-mail I recently received.
The way our computer system is configured, an e-mail from an unknown sender goes through a category called junk mail. In that way, we are not bombarded with unsolicited messages all day. We all check our “junk mail” regularly. After deleting those offering lower mortgage rates, enhanced intimacy opportunities, and AA Advantage messages, we often find an e-mail from a long forgotten friend or a confirmation of a hotel reservation.
Sometimes we even find a message from a prospective client.
We, of course, approach these inquiries with great caution, forwarding them a secretary who will arrange for a conflicts check and perhaps, an appointment for a consultation if appropriate.
This e-mail intrigued me. It caused me great self reflection and pause. Was I a bull dog? Did I aspire to be one, if I wasn’t one already? How could ever look at myself in the mirror again and not think : Are you a bull dog?
Some clients, particularly in the area of family law, have described certain lawyers as pit bulls, piranhas, sharks, tigers. Even after almost two years back in private practice, I had not yet classified myself zoologically. Perhaps it was time.
In a desire to be helpful to those who are also thinking about whether they fit into the bulldog mold, I have come up with a handy self administered quiz.
- Do you view each case that you are retained in as a challenging endeavor? Are your passionate about your client’s cause? Are you excited about working on the matter?
- Do you research the law do determine if you have a remedy for the dispute, a cause of action that allows you to file a lawsuit?
- Is the result of your meetings with your client a planned strategy, homework assignments, next steps, a timeline?
- Do you return your client’s phone calls promptly? Do you initiate calls to your client to see what progress is being made on his or her part?
- Do you explore avenues of alternative dispute resolution, settlement, out-of-the box solutions for complex and sensitive issues?
- Are you prepared to try your case? Has discovery been completed? Parties and witnesses prepared? Pleadings in order?
- Do you consult with your partners, associates, colleagues, experts in the field about novel issues and intricate discovery methods?
- Do you supervise your paralegal, associate, secretary in a manner that produces the best product? Do they try to avoid walking past your office for fear of being on the receiving end of delegation of work?
- Are you courteous to opposing counsel, guardians ad litem, clerks, bailiffs and judges?
- Do you believe that your client’s emergency is your emergency?
- Do you listen, consider, plan and determine the best action necessary? Do you follow through on that action to completion?
- Do you take time to discuss the case patiently and thoroughly with your client so there are no misunderstandings? Do you confirm your understanding in writing?
- Do you discuss the weaknesses of the client’s cases, as well as the strengths?
- Are you still returning phone calls at 9 pm at night? Do you have night awakenings about filing deadlines, case resolution, one more thing you should do to prepare for trial? Do you work at home, on evenings and weekends? Do you read articles on how much sleep one can survive on?
Chances are if you answered “yes” to many of these questions, you are a bulldog.
It’s not easy being a bulldog, is it? Clients want us to literally fight for them. They want us to bark or speak louder than would be polite, to humiliate their spouse or ex-spouse, and to drag them through the mud. They may even find it desirable to have us “nip” at the opposing party.
Maybe that’s what they want in their bulldog. However, legal ethics do not permit such actions.
I never responded in kind to that e-mail. I met with the client and yes, our firm was retained. I would assume I met her bulldog test. Whatever the criteria she used, we, as lawyers, all know that a bulldog is a very prepared, caring, zealous and ethical lawyer. That’s the kind of bulldog we all long to be.
By: Susan E. Block