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Abraham Lincoln once advised a new lawyer that “it is more important to know what cases not to take than it is to know the law.” Well, that’s easy for Abraham Lincoln to say. After all, he had his own law firm, lots of clients and career options other than trying to become a partner at The Firm. The rest of us, however, can’t be so choosy when it comes to taking on cases and clients. It is not very often that we attorneys turn away clients willing and able to pay our inflated legal bills. A potential client may ask a lawyer: “Do you and your firm do (fill in the blank with anything from corporate mergers to dog bites)?” The lawyer responds without hesitation: “Of course, that just happens to be my specialty. Please sign this retainer agreement.” While such behavior isn’t exactly following in the footsteps of Honest Abe, it is perhaps a necessary response in today’s legal market that encourages lawyers to make every effort to reel in any client they can get to take the bait. And “reeling in” clients and getting them “to take the bait” are good expressions to describe how lawyers try to develop business for The Firm. This is because attorneys use many fishing terms to describe the process. While it is true that lawyers eat what they catch, it is also true that those who don’t catch anything starve. For this reason, all lawyers in private practice must get out in the water and cast a line. Even if you are way down on The Firm feeding chain, you should be thinking about trying to catch a fish or two. Before doing so, however, there are other similarities between business development for lawyers and fishing that the lawyer should know about. REELING IN THE CLIENT Lawyers have to be very careful to bait the hook with just the right sales pitch, drop it in the water and then slowly reel in the client. Making any sudden movements or loud noises could scare the client away. Once the big client is landed, however, the lawyer becomes a big fish at The Firm. Even at this point, however, there is one more thing to worry about. If the client fails to pay its legal bills to The Firm, all you will have to show for your efforts is another fish story. ‘YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY’ Perhaps worse than catching nothing at all is catching a client and then letting it get away. When this happens, the partners at The Firm are going to look for someone to blame for letting the fish swim free. That person will be you. Instead of enjoying a big fish fry when a client’s bills are collected, the partners may end up cutting your line to The Firm and you will be left to swim to uncharted waters until you find a berth at another firm. WATCH OUT FOR THE SHARKS When going fishing for clients, lawyers must beware of other lawyers out there hunting for the same thing. Even if you have a bite, the client can be snatched away by another lawyer. The competition from other lawyers can be fierce and the sharks may attack you if they smell blood. While you’re at it, you should also beware of the barracudas. KNOW WHICH ONES TO THROW BACK IN Beggars, and lawyers desperate for business, can’t be choosers. It may not be a corporate lawyer’s first choice to take an employment discrimination or immigration case, for example, but if that same lawyer doesn’t have any other choices, any kind of work is going to be welcomed. Despite the pressure to bring in new business, it is advisable to turn away clients and cases that will be more trouble than they are worth. It’s a hard thing to do, but lawyers should learn which clients to throw back in after they have been caught. You might think you have a big beautiful marlin but then be left with nothing more than an anemic minnow. Such creatures of the sea include deadbeat clients, family members and clients who pose conflicts of interest. There should also be no hesitation in tossing back in the catch of the day, i.e., a client who has already gone through three or four other lawyers before calling you. Also listed among the most deadly fish are cases that involve barroom brawls, cases that belong in small claims court, cases in which you represent a prison inmate and you are second chair (the inmate being the first chair), landlord/tenant disputes, and the suits filed against the president of the United States. Whatever you do with these types of clients and cases, your client will conclude that you are incompetent and end up hating you. I know, I know, that excludes almost every kind of case there is but some cases are worse than others. One last word of advice: Try to stay out of uncharted waters when dealing with new clients. Sooner or later, perhaps before a judge or opposing counsel, you are going to be expected to know something about the law. This is when you may have to share your catch with other lawyers. Go fish! The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected].

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