Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms

No, I Won’t Help Incompetent Lawyers Take My Business

When I first went into private practice, I was doing exclusively criminal defense. A lawyer I didn’t know, who didn’t practice criminal law, got my name and wanted to refer me a case. He told me his client was arrested and asked, because the client only spoke French and he had an assistant that spoke French, if I would come to his office and consult with the client.

Sure, no problem.

I went to his office and sat in his conference room with the client, the assistant/translator, and the referring lawyer. As I went through the substantive and procedural aspects of the case I noticed that the referring lawyer, let’s call him “Joe” (because his name is actually Joe), was taking copious notes.

A couple days later, I called Joe to ask whether the client was going to hire me. “Actually Brian, I was surprised to hear from the client that he wants me to represent him.”

So Joe sat there, listened to my 90-minute road map of how I would handle the case, decided he needed to pay rent, and told the client he could do it. Maybe that was the intention from the beginning; I don’t know. I do know that I no longer allow anyone to take notes during consultations, and I rarely go to someone else’s office to meet with a new client…

Now you may be thinking, “Oh, Brian’s one of those lawyers that don’t share.”

Quite the contrary. If I could bill for the “Hey, can you just answer a question?” advice I give to other lawyers, or for the case law cite that a colleague needs for his motion, or for sending over the motion I filed that a young, or even experienced, but lazy lawyer now needs to file, I wouldn’t actually have to practice law. I share, and I’m happy to share with a lawyer trying to do a good job for a client.

But I decided a while back that sharing is not the same as helping a lawyer take my business or commit malpractice.

I’ll give you two examples:

First, when you’re starting out and trying to develop relationships, you believe it’s important to let as many lawyers know what you know. You think it will help you get business. It should. But there are lawyers out there starving who will take any kind of work they can get. These are the criminal lawyers asking for copies of civil complaints, and civil litigators asking if “anyone has a copy of a financial affidavit for a divorce case.” Those are lawyers on their way to screwing over a client, or at least stumbling through the case only because they need cash, and I’m not going to be a part of it. I’m not going to help bad lawyers do bad work. The answer is no, and it should be your answer as well. Sending a lawyer a rope to hang themselves with is not help. It’s stupidity.

Second, I’m not going to teach you what I do if you’re just interested in learning so you can become a competitor. I’m a nice guy, not a moron. I know, harsh.

Here’s the call: “I have a friend that needs to hire you, but I really want to learn how to do what you do, so can you just tell me how it works or maybe I can co-counsel, because I want to learn how to do this work?” I didn’t make that up, that’s a real call. I said no. Candidly, I think in my early years, I may have said “yes.” And this is not an old lawyer vs. young lawyer issue, it’s an issue of doing the work to become competent. To this caller, I said the better path was to send me the client and I would attempt to reciprocate (as he’s a good lawyer in his field). I was happy to represent the client and would even pay a referral/participation fee in accordance with the ethics rules, but wasn’t interested in teaching a lawyer in another field to do this work. Contrast that with a young lawyer doing this type of work and needing some assistance — that’s different.

So go ahead and see this as a post from a 19-year lawyer who wants those kids to get off his lawn. It’s not — and they’re not just “kids.”. You’re not doing your practice or the profession any favors by becoming the lawyer that shadows other lawyers trying to make a buck. Law is a business and a profession, don’t forget either one. Protect both.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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