40 Top Tips to Become a Successful Lawyer
By Attorney James P. Hentz
1. Be honest with your potential client. If your client does not have a case where he/she can
have a favorable outcome, do not take the case. If you do, then you are opening up your
client and yourself for unrealistic expectations that will lead to discontent. If you are honest
with your client and you do not take their case when he/she thanks you says "Don't thank
me- send me a referral." There exists an ugly stereotype surrounding attorneys. I have
found that people can be very apprehensive of attorneys, they think that lawyers are
dishonest, in some cases due to past experiences or "hear say". They believe that lawyers
will take their money without question. Most people believe that attorneys do not return
phone calls. Be different and you will differentiate yourself from everybody else.
2. Care for your client. If you care for your client, it will show and your client will like you. How
do you show your client you care? See number 1. Caring for a client is something that has to
come from within. If you do not care for your client it is likely you will not perform as well as
you should have. Many times, your client may not recognize and appreciate what you do for
them. But if you are passionate about what you do, the rewards are sure to follow. I had
my first SSDI case and we won the case after my client tried twice to get SSDI herself. In an
SSID case the Federal government will pay a percentage and it has a cap. Unfortunately, I
did not put on the contract "whichever is lower"; therefore, I had to bring my client in to
sign a paper to get paid. My client's husband thought I was trying to pull a "fast one."
Everything I had done was for free and if I did not win the case I would not have gotten
paid. I was disappointed that in an eight months span my client thought I was not honest.
Always remember to stay true to who you are.
3. Give your cell phone number to your client and you will avoid getting a call from the BBO
(Board of Bar Overseers). In this day and age of cell phones, email, Facebook, My Space, and
Linked in, etc., you must be accessible. This generation wants to speak with you in real time
and on demand. If you do not answer your phone and do not return a phone call within the
same business day or weekend the potential client will call another lawyer and you will lose
business. The biggest complaint to the BBO is that an attorney is not returning a phone call.
You can show your client that you care by returning his or her phone call in the same day
4. Be Likeable. See number 2. One of the ways to make a connection with a potential client is
being warm, friendly and ask questions about them and their family client a little first then talk about business. The client will be more at ease and it will
demonstrate to them that you care. Try to add humor to the first interview; it will put both
you and your client, on a friendly and even playing field, which is always a great place to
begin. If you are meeting with a client, it usually means that they are in trouble and need
help fast. If your client likes you, he will trust you and if he trusts you the client will hire you
(and very importantly will refer you.) Remember the client is meeting you for the first time
and they are nervous about giving any sum of money to an attorney to fix their problem. If
they cannot see the value of your service and trust that you will do what you say then the
client will not hire you. You have to engage the client and ask a lot of questions for them to
open up to you.
5. If you ever take a case where you do not know what you are doing and it "blows up" give
your client their money back, immediately. Early on in my profession, I took an immigration
case from a client and spent $2,000 in fees. Once I realized that I had made a mistake by
taking the case, I gave back the $2,000 to my client and referred her to a new attorney. She
won her case and two years later she called me and thanked me for helping her stay in this
country. At the time I did know the case was beyond my abilities but I soon realized my
client needed more help than I could give. It was tough giving the money back, but I avoided
a malpractice claim and had a happy ex-client.
6. Never take a retainer less than $1,000 because your time and experience is worth more
than that. Some cases you only need a $1,000.00 to get the job done. In my criminal law
practice, when a client has committed a crime, he or she will come to you for legal
representation. Read the police report and the complaint. Then give your analysis of the
strength and weakness of the government case. Refrain from saying "it is a slam dunk you
will win this case at trial" First, a trial is too unpredictable to make that claim and it is
unethical to guarantee a win. What you do is tell your client that based on your experience
what typically happens is you plea out the case and estimate it will cost $1,000.00. Then you
can give your opinion of any motions you could file to help his/her case and an analysis of
the chances of winning. Let your client make the decision. You are managing expectation.
So if the case "goes south" you warned your client.
7. When I take a phone call and that person on the other line asks "How much will it cost me?"
I respond, by asking "Am I the first attorney you called?" Regardless of whether the answer
is yes or no, my response is, "You are not shopping at Wal-Mart- you get what you pay for"
Then listen to how he/she responds. Chances are he or she is "shopping around" and you
would not want to do business with him/her anyway.
mind can become a big "pain in the butt." You have to explain to the client that it is not
about time, but experience and getting the job done right the 1st time.
8. If you are out of the office have your office phone forward calls to your cell phone. Lawyers
are always on the go and half the time you are not in your office. Therefore, it is imperative
that you be available to your current clients and potential clients. It has happened on more
than occasion a client has hired me because I picked up the phone. Sometimes, I was the
third or fourth attorney that they called. It shows the potential client that you are accessible
and want their business.
9. Have your web site on your business card because people will be able to find you. In this
day and age you must have a great business card and a web site. The first thing I did was to
design a "killer" business card with my picture, cell phone, web site, areas of practice, fax
number and e-mail address. If you do not have that on your card then you are "dead in the
water." Try to have as much of that information as possible. Set yourself apart from the
10. Have your emails sent to your cell phone and then answer your emails first chance you get.
This way, you will always be in contact with your clients. Attorneys spend half of their time
out of their office and you need to be connected. If you are in court and you check your
email you can respond right away instead of waiting to get back to your office. It is about
customer service and keeping in contact with your clients.
11. Return your phone messages before the end of the day. That shows your client that you
care and your client will love you for it. This is another example of providing excellent
service to your client. The word will get out that you respond to phone calls and emails thus
you can achieve a following and break down the stereotype of the attorney that never
returns phone calls.
12. If your potential client calls you on the phone determine as quickly as possible if you can
help him or her. If so, make an appointment as soon as you can. The longer you put off the
meeting the less likely you get the new client. If you cannot make an appointment within
three days you will lose this client. He or she will change their mind and find a reason to
come up with the money for a retainer.
13. If you can't help him then refer him to someone that can. He will thank you and remember
you. If a potential client calls and I do not practice that area of law I will refer him or her to
an attorney that I know. If I do not have an attorney in mind then I will refer them to the
Laywer.com, Worcester Bar referral or the Massachusetts Bar referral. Be a resource to the
14. Sign a contract with your client so you and your client are on the same page. There will not
be any misunderstandings. In my contract, I have three types of ways I can earn a fee
The first method of payment is one with a retainer with an hourly rate and that is
reserved for my private criminal matter, and private civil matters
The second method of payment is a contingency fee agreement for my personal injury
cases which is the standard rate of .33% of any settlement of a car accident case. Every
attorney has the same rate for attorney
The third method of payment is a flat rate fee which means you have a retainer for the
entire process. I utilized that method for my immigration clients and my simple Wills
clients. People like the flat rate because they know there is a cap for legal fees. You
must know how much time and effort the particular case will take because if y6ou
estimate "too low", you lose money, "too high" and you might not get the case. Find out
the going rate so that you do not price yourself out of the market by calling other
attorneys and getting a quote.
15. Give a detailed invoice on the 15th
and the 30th of the month because your client will
understand where their money is going. Also, your client knows you are working on their
case. Clients are very apprehensive when they give you their money and one way to
eliminate that is to explain that they will get a bill on all the work that you have done q and
it will be documented. The bill will have the trust amount so it keeps the client in the loop.
The client will not get the bill and wonder where their money went and it will cut down on
unnecessary phone calls.
16. Send an email, letter, phone call to your client every 30 days. See tip #6. Keeping your client
informed and being proactive will cut down on unnecessary phone calls that will allow you
to work on your case. If you need something that is important keep it on a two day dairy
until you get the information that you requested. Always "cc" your client on all paper work
that you send out. It will let your client know you are working on his/her file
17. Exceed expectations for your client. For example, "I will get your immigration paper work in
30 days" and get it done in two weeks. When a new immigration client is in the initial
interview they will ask many questions but the most important one is how long will it take.
Depending on the nature of the case, I would say usually six months on average. I will
explain my goal is to have the paper work out the door in 30 days from the hiring interview
then it will take another five months for USCIS to process the paperwork. It will take that Law Office of James P. Hentz
long to get the paper work from your client and fill out the proper forms for USCIS. Get the
paper work within 30 days.
18. Have a computer program for tracking your time, billing, diary and monthly reports. After
starting to get my web site done, I bought PC LAW, the software system that will track time,
client, diary your court dates, print out invoices, breakdown your monthly expenses and
profit for tax time. I made more money faster because of the PC LAW features. It is your
practice online. If you are a solo practitioners it will save you a vast amount of time and
earn you money.
19. Find out where the client got your name and if it was a referral, send a thank you note! In
general people like to help other people and to have more referrals, send thank you notes,
it demonstrates gratitude. The other attorney or former client will appreciate your effort
and send you more clients. You must track your marketing efforts so you can spend your
money on marketing that works.
21. During an interview, if you have something in common express it at the right time. I do a lot
of immigration work, and I mention that my wife emigrated from Panama. I mention my
great grandmother came from Spain
22. Put a picture of you on your business card because you will stand out. Most attorneys'
business cards have name, address, work telephone number, and maybe their web site. My
business card has my photograph, web site, cell number, email address, areas of practice
and it has some color and that makes it stand out. You can have a 20th century business card
or one for the 21 century it is up to you.
23. List out the areas of practice on your business card so people will remember what areas of
the law you practice. To expand on this idea most people that you meet will not remember
what area of the law you practice. To overcome this gap, put your top 4 areas of practice on
your card. So when a person needs your service they will look at your card and call you
24. If you are in law school and have no intentions of practicing law, rethink your strategy, you
may be wasting a lot of your time and money. If you think it will help a non practice career,
consider a master's degree. Law school teaches a way of thinking not a way to help your
non-legal career. Law school is a lot of money, time, and effort to get your degree and not
practice. I went to law school at age 32 and my single intentions was to practice law. I had a
career as a claims adjuster and wanted more out of life. I love to help people and earn a
living practicing law. You must love the law to become successful at it
25. Take time and experiment different areas of law and practice those ones that you love and
the money will follow. The old saying goes if you love what you do then you are never working. Depending where you live will have an effect on what you practice. If you are on your own it is easy to determine what areas of practice you are going to do. You just have to
market to where you think your clients are. If you are going to work for someone else you
might have to work based on what your boss wants you to do. If that is what you have to do
then do it. But I would then market in an area of practice that the firm does not do so you
can develop a book of business and take the lion share of the money
26. Base your fee on the ability to pay your client and the complexity of the case. If your client
wants to plead his case out on the first pretrial hearing then charge him/her $800 dollars. If
he/she wants to try the case charge him/her $5,000.00. Give your client options about the
strength of his/her case as to going to trial or pleading out his case. State the "good, bad
and the ugly" when going over his or her case
27. Let your client know he has a great case to win but might never get what he wants. For
instance, the cabinet installer screwed up the installation and it cost your client $5,000.00.
Tell him he can win his case but it will cost him about $5,000. 00 to win his case. You might
win the case but it could be hard in collecting the judgment. Manage the expectation
28. When someone asks you "What kind of lawyer are you? Tell them "A great one." When
they ask again, tell them "I solve legal problems at a fair and reasonable price" when they
ask you what law you practice, tell them. You will always be battling the stereotype
attorney. It is so important to set yourself apart from the other guys
29. Refrain from vices like over drinking, attending strip clubs, gambling, cheating on your
spouse, etc., because this leads to trouble. Partaking in negative activities can lead you to
thoughts of wrong doing. Never take your client's trust money- it will lead to disbarment.
The best advice that the first and only law firm that I worked for said to me was not to have
the vices mentioned above or the like, because it is too tempting to spend the trust money
and get disbarred
30. Never be intimate with your client- no matter how attractive the person. This tip was from
my first semester of law school. It is just in bad taste and if the result is not a favorable one
then it will lead to a complaint to the BBO. The client will stop paying you while you are
doing the work
31 Think twice before taking a family member's case, because they may not be happy with the
outcome. It can be difficult to separate yourself- there can be a lot of emotion which will
prevent you from being objective while handling the case. A family member of mine is
getting a divorce but I referred the case to another qualified attorney. My family member
received a discount and hired an objective attorney.
member to a good attorney. If the case goes "south "he/ she will blame that attorney and
not you. Another reason not to take a client who is a family member is because at every
family function the case will come up and it will drive you crazy
32. Always get the retainer up front. This will allow you to focus your work without worrying
that you will not be paid. Try to get the retainer as close as you think it will cost your client
to the end of the case. This rule applies to every attorney but for a solo-practitioner, it is
vital. The retainer will keep you in business
33 If you are in law school because your parents want you to be a lawyer, rethink this option.
You may never be truly happy. A lawyer is not something you do, but it is what you will
become. A passion for the law is the most important aspect of becoming a successful one. A
passion for helping people will help your cause
34. Have a professional web person to host your web site not a family member. The website is a
reflection on you and it is your branding of yourself. A one page web site will not captivate
your audience. Have some creativity with your web site because it is the first thing a new
client will see
35. The one case you do not take is the best one, because it would have been a malpractice
case. If the client has gone through three attorneys, that is a red flag. If the client wants you
to take a case on a contingency and it is not a personal injury case do not take it. If the
potential client is really cost conscious he or she will be more of a pain than the fee you will
36. Be polite, friendly and say hello to the people that work in the clerk's office. There is a
saying "A judge can hurt you but the clerk's office can kill you." The clerk's office is made up
of individuals that are over worked and under paid. It is your job to make friends with them
because they are very knowledgeable and dedicated to the cause and most importantly, will
help you when you need the most. For example, I work as an independent contractor for
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a public defender. On days when there was not a
criminal docket, I sometimes got called in to do a bail in front of the judge. I was left a
message from the court to come in. I called them back and they still needed an attorney.
However, I was dressed in business casual attire. I told the clerk I was out of my office and
came directly to the courthouse. He explained the situation to the judge and after the
hearings the judge thanked me for coming in instead of lecturing me on my business casual
37. Get an American Express card. It is sign and an image of being successful.
38. Dress for success. Buy the $500 dollar suit and the $50 shirt with the $30 dollar tie. I just
bought a three piece suit that looks great and I stand out from the other attorneys. The
shirts and ties should have some color and be fashionable. Be noticed.
39. Create a Marketing Plan. Keep track of your initiatives, due dates and predecessors to each
task. When you start your practice, begin by marketing little by little and increase your
marketing budget with the increase in income. You may not have a lot of money when you
start your practice but two things I did right away were to have a professionally done
website and signing up with Lawyers.com. As you begin to earn money invest in your
business because you need to spend money to make money. Keep track of where your
clients are coming from so you will know where to spend your money. If a marketing
campaign/ strategy you implement does not pay for itself in 6 months, move on to "plan B."
Always keep marketing at the forefront of your business. Marketing does not have a
completion date. It is ongoing to keep up with the changing times and demands
40. Start a self employment retirement plan and try to save 10% of your income. Save your
money for retirement.
41. The most important lesson to remember is to do the job right (do the right thing) and
success will follow then the money will be sure to follow you wherever you go
That's it. That's all for now. I wish for you the very best in all that you do. May you have all the
success the world has to offer.
Circulated by: Lawyer Asad