My doctor friends tell me that of all the medical television shows that have aired, Scrubs got it right about doctors. In one particular episode, the general theme is that the patients have fifteen seconds to talk with their doctor before the doctor starts tuning out no matter what the patient may say. For me, this is at least five seconds more than I need when I am talking with a potential client to determine whether or not there is an actual case to be prosecuted.
In all honesty, I can usually predict within the first sentence they utter if they have a legitimate case or not. Like 90% (or better) as soon as they open their mouth. I’ve got it down to a pseudo science. If it is over the phone or in person, every aspect of the communication process is taken into account in my knee jerk analysis. Typically, if they sound smart, I’ll listen past the first three words, unless the words are:
“You a lawyer?”
This is an automatic fail. No ifs, ands or buts about it. They called a lawyer’s office and they want to immediately go to the professional so that they can start their tale of woe. These individuals don’t care if they are right or about getting help, they just want to talk to the man in charge. In the last 25 potential clients whom I talked with that started a conversation like this, not a one had a case. Here’s an example from my own practice:
Caller: You a lawyer? Can ask you a few questions?
Me: Yes sir, go right ahead
Caller: I had surgery in November and it still hurts, is that normal?
Me: I am a lawyer not a doctor, I have no idea if that is normal. Talk to your doctor.
Caller: But I want to sue.
Some of them had great stories to tell, such as getting shot by the police (while committing a crime), finding (but not eating) slugs in boxes of cereal or, my personal favorite, any factual scenario that ends with a statement of “but I could have died”. An aside: If personal injury attorneys got paid for all of the “but I could have died” clients we’d all hire BigLaw partners to be our live-in manservants.
Similar to the above automatic disqualification, there is another surfire waste of your time about to happen:
“I got a case, I need a lawyer”
Clearly they have a case because they’ve already filed suit. Oh wait, no, they haven’t. They’ve had an accident. Now, us being lawyers, law students or just assholes, we are likely wanting to quickly correct this person’s procedural faux pas: “Ma’am, you don’t have a case until you’ve filed a complaint in court, have you done that? No? I didn’t think so. So let’s leave the legal jargon to the lawyer on this call…” But I would caution against this, because there is a better than likely chance that you will hear something you can share over drinks with your friends.
Finally, there those potential clients that don’t begin their contact with you in any way that raises red flags but for whatever reason, your bullshit meter is on alert. It is just a feeling that you will have that you know you are (a) about to have your time wasted but (b) you will be entertained:
Caller: I want to sue for the death of my child.
Me: What happened.
Caller: Well, I was charged with her murder in 1999 but I was acquitted…
Me: [Hangs up the phone]
This is how I sign up clients. How about you?