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Bar News - September 18, 2009

New Lawyers’ Column: Tooting Your Own Horn


James P. O’Rourke, Jr.
Do you tell your clients what a good job you have done for them? Why not? Many new lawyers may be reluctant to toot their own horns or perhaps they simply do not recognize when they have done a good job. With a little time and experience, you will gain the perspective to know whether or not a matter went well.

You must first create with your client an understanding of reasonable goals and the range of possible outcomes. When the case does go well, someone should tell the client. Since no one knows about it better than you do, and no one else has the motivation to do it for you, you should do it yourself.

This is not to say new lawyers should boldly brag about their legal skills or latest courtroom triumphs. Your goal can be accomplished both directly and indirectly.

For example, you have just negotiated a final divorce stipulation. In the normal course of negotiations, your client had to give up some of the things she wanted in order to gain some others. In this case, she avoided needless litigation that would have resulted in much higher attorney’s fees. Perhaps more importantly for this particular client, after months of stress and uncertainty, she finally got divorced.

As you close out the file in the following days, this is a good time for positive public relations. Tell the client that, although she had to compromise, you are really pleased with the results, that a marital master likely would have ordered a similar settlement, that she saved thousands of dollars in legal fees, and that she has gained the psychological benefit of putting the painful divorce behind her sooner rather than later. (Of course, you must be truthful in your assessment.)

You can also get your message across in more subtle ways. In a recent case, I was able to negotiate a diversion agreement for a college student who was charged with possession of a controlled drug. In my experience, this was a reasonable and common outcome for this kind of case. However, a college student does not know that. His parents do not know that. So I told him. Then I called his parents.

I said words to this effect: "I couldn’t be happier about getting Jim’s case into diversion! As you know, he has to do X, Y & Z. If he does, then the prosecutor will nolle pros the complaint; it won’t appear on his criminal record, and it won’t affect his federal student loans." Then, in my close-out letter, I wrote, "Congratulations on the excellent results we were able to achieve in College Town District Court."

In that letter I also reminded the client of the other favorable parts of the disposition, including the fact that they had saved the expense of a trial. Finally, in the itemized bill one of the final entries read, "Negotiated favorable Diversion Agreement with prosecutor."

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to appear to be some rube gushing about how great everything is. Things are not all good. After all, your client may be dealing with a failed marriage or worried about staying clean and sober. However, by publicizing the positive results you have achieved, you are not forfeiting your professional demeanor or dignity.

It is important to remember that most clients are not involved with the legal process on a daily basis. They don’t know whether you have done a good job or have saved them money or have created value. Tell them. No one else will do it for you.

James P. O’Rourke, Jr. (Jim) works at the Gleason Law Office, PLLC in Henniker, practicing in criminal defense, family law and general civil litigation.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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