I have always been interested in where we, as personal injury lawyers, obtain our new work from. Particularly in Queensland where rules and regulations restrict certain types of advertising; namely, those which might induce a claim.
Over my years of practice, when I have spoken to people outside of my industry about what I do, it’s frequently met with: “oh … so you’re an ambulance chaser.” It seems the impact of the movie The Rainmaker and American litigation culture in general have really permeated public perception of the type of law I practice and how we might obtain clients. Aside from how I feel about that type of behaviour from an ethical standpoint, the law in Queensland is quite clear in its strict prohibition of what might otherwise be known as “ambulance chasing”.
My intrigue as to the generation of new work started early, as both a law clerk and young solicitor. It wasn’t lost on me that most of the work I was bringing in (and that of the Partner training me) was generated from those we were either already assisting or had acted for previously. Looking back now, I was fortunate to initially work for a firm which, at the time, did not spend a great deal of money on advertising and were instead heavily reliant on word-of-mouth referrals. This has, somewhat, influenced how I practice as a lawyer and has stayed with me throughout my career. It has also shaped how I interact with my colleagues within the profession, and the community at large. I have never taken for granted the impact we have on those around us, and how that might assist (or come back to bite us) in the future.
I was reminded of this looking over data for new matters shared between our offices recently. It was interesting to note very few new clients had come from traditional or digital advertising, and instead the vast bulk had come through those word-of-mouth connections we might otherwise take for granted. One that stood out to me was an entry: “rented a house from [colleague] 20 years ago.” I mean, just let that sink in. When you think about the last 20 years in your own life, and the various connections and experiences you have had, could you imagine having such an impact so long ago (and in a completely different capacity) that you would be the first they reach out to when things had gone wrong?
I was speaking to my colleagues about how profound this was and one mentioned “you always leave fingerprints.” I haven’t stopped thinking about that since. We always leave fingerprints.
I am certain most of my colleagues in the profession work hard to advocate for their clients, but it is worth considering how quickly that hard work goes down the drain when we are not fair on fees, not open to being flexible, or become so out of touch that those we are here to advocate for and represent, our clients, are put last. It is also worth considering the impact we have on our counterparts during the litigation process; if you are consistently aggressive in your approach, how likely would that counterpart be to think of you when they need help, or even be flexible when you ultimately have a time where you need them to help?
And that doesn’t mean you should lay down and be passive just in case it might work in your favour by doing so. You can be firm in your advocacy while still being fair. How you interact with your clients and your legal colleagues is also not lost on Barristers, Mediators, and those in the general community who might think twice about whether you are the best person to give representation to their nearest and dearest.
While everyone has a different path and perspective, my personal advice to those looking to build relationships is simple:
- Say yes to that local professional breakfast (or other) catch up you keep putting off
- Give before you take and always remember to pay it forward when you can
- Be genuine and don’t force relationships – people can tell when you’re not really interested in them as a person. If you’re not connecting with someone, or only doing it for reasons that are not genuine, just move on
- Be a strong advocate for your clients – this should be a no-brainer, but it unfortunately is not. To that end, be an effective communicator (it will save your client’s time and money) and don’t underestimate how important trust is in the lawyer-client relationship
- Be kind in your interactions with your counterparts and make your points in an even-handed and fair way. Your reputation is your currency – it only takes minutes to destroy years of hard work so be proactive about maintaining a positive reputation
In the increasingly competitive field of personal injury law, and with potential clients now having access to a wealth of information, it is worth stepping back and looking at the big picture every now and then. Kindness takes courage and the simple act of being fair, compassionate, and kind just might mean you are privileged enough to be asked to help again if you are needed in the future.
As published in Lawyers Weekly and My Weekly Preview.
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