“They Laughed When I Told Them I’m Using a Solo Practitioner”
A former client of mine related this story to me recently. It was only after I had settled her case did she tell me what her friends said shortly after she told them she hired a solo practitioner for her injury case.
"How can you hire a one-man law firm?" one of her friends asked. "What happens if he gets sick?" asked another. "How does he have the resources that a large firm has?" said another good friend. "What is it about him that made you choose him over the other law firms you looked into?"
The answers were revealing.
She told her well-meaning friends that I was the only lawyer who provided information to her before she ever came into my office. None of the other law firms she spoke to would give her any information about cases like hers. In fact, out of five New York law firms she contacted, I was the only lawyer who actually got on the phone to talk to her. All the other calls were intercepted by receptionists who wanted to set up an appointment for her instead. She explained to her friends that on my website I gave free reports about how medical malpractice cases work. This was new to her and the information was very helpful to understand how a case works. She was also grateful to learn how a lawyer actually evaluates a potential medical malpractice case in New York. Before looking at my website, she had preconceived ideas about what types of cases are accepted by injury and accident lawyers in New York. My reports helped her understand the procedure a lawyer must go through to determine whether someone has a valid case.
This woman explained to her friends that she had spoken to a paralegal at one of the big law firms in New York City about how they communicate with their clients. This is what she was told: "You'll meet an associate when you first come to us. They'll gather all the information about your case. Once we get your records and determine that you have a valid case, your matter will be assigned to a team of lawyers consisting of a senior trial lawyer, an associate and a paralegal." When she asked when she'd get to meet with the senior trial lawyer, she was told that only if her case went to trial would she meet with him. Otherwise she'd be dealing with the associate on day-to-day matters. The paralegal was very flip about how simple it was to get information from her and from the associate. "Don't worry, we know exactly what's going on with your case every day," was her comment.
When my soon-to-be client called this law firm later that day to ask the paralegal more questions, her conversation started out like this: "Thank you for calling _____ law firm. How may I direct your call?" "I'd like to speak to the paralegal I was speaking to earlier about a potential case." "Do you know her name?" "No." "Well, we have over 20 paralegals here. How do you spell your last name?" "Never mind," she replied, frustrated with being unable to speak to the person she spoke to earlier.
Another law firm she spoke to refused to tell her anything over the phone. This is understandable since there are many legal dangers that arise if an attorney gives out legal advice over the telephone. First, there's no attorney-client relationship when someone calls with a question on the phone. Theoretically, anything that is discussed might be discoverable at a later time. Second, there are so many facts that may be missing that it would not be appropriate for a lawyer to give legal advice based on incomplete information. Ideally, the lawyer wants the person to come in, explain the problem, and then give the potential client an informed and educated decision based on their particular facts. However, many attorneys refuse to discuss anything with a potential client until they walk in the door of their office.
What this young woman found particularly helpful were the video tips on my video blog and my website that discuss different areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death and personal injury law. In my educational videos I offer useful general information to help a website visitor understand how the legal process works. In one video I explain in detail how a medical malpractice lawsuit works from start to finish. In another video I explain some of the interesting cases I have handled where I have obtained compensation for my clients who have been injured.
This woman also told her friends that she asked each law firm she called how often the lawyer communicates with her about updates on her case. These were the replies she received:
"We send you a quarterly letter advising you what's going on with your case." "Oh, we don't send written updates. If you want to know what's happening, you have to call us. If we sent updates to all of our clients on a regular basis, we'd spend most of our day writing letters."
When she came to my office, she was pleased to learn that I send written updates once a month. She also learned that I call my clients often and email them as well. She was even more surprised to learn that I answer my own phone often, and always promptly return my client's calls. There's no paralegal in my office who asks "How do you spell your last name?" My paralegal knows who my clients are, and gets to know them well. There's no associate who has to ask another attorney, "What happened on that case the last time you went on a conference in court?" There's no running to the file or checking the computer to find out what last happened on your case, because in my office, I am the only one who handles your case, start to finish. I know exactly what is going on with your case at any time, because I am the only one who handles it. Not a paralegal. Not an associate. Not a junior partner. Just me; a solo practitioner who has been in practice in New York for twenty years.
This woman asked me during our first meeting "How can you compete with the big law firms in terms of legal research?" My answer shocked her. I told her I don't need a big law library with musty old law books. Everything I need is on my computer. Legal research is all computerized now. The solo practitioner has the same legal research capability as the largest law firm. I told her that if a case was beyond my reach and required resources that I simply did not have, I would never accept it and would refer the potential client to another law firm that did have the ability to handle it.
Importantly, I mentioned that if she felt the need to go to a large law firm in New York City and help pay for their fancy offices and beautiful mahogany furnishings and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows with offices looking out over the city, then by all means she should go there. However, I also told her that those beautiful offices don't win lawsuits. It is the attorney who occupies a particular office that wins cases. Regardless of whether that office is in Manhattan or Long Island. "If you want to be another fish in the ocean, I'm sure you will be very happy with that law firm. If however you want to have personal attention every step of the way, then a small law firm is the one for you."
I am pleased to say that this woman was extremely happy with her choice of attorneys. After she finished explaining her reasoning to her friends, you didn't hear any more laughing over her choice of attorney for her case. The only comments she heard were "You know, you're right." "I'm sorry I doubted your choice of lawyers." "I didn't realize there was such a difference between law firms."
Gerry Oginski is an experienced medical malpractice & personal injury trial lawyer practicing law in Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, New York, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk & Long Island and has been in practice since 1988.
He is a graduate of Touro College, Jacob Fuchsberg College of Law in Huntington, NY and he is admitted to practice law in New York and Connecticut. He started his legal career working for a defense firm on Wall Street representing doctors, hospitals and businesses who were sued. Four years later he felt the gravitational pull to represent injured victims of medical negligence and accidents. After doing defense work, he joined a personal injury law firm in Brooklyn, NY representing injured victims, and then four years later, joined forces with a large law firm in Queens, NY. While there, he was in charge of the medical malpractice department, and in 2002 opened his own office for the practice of law. His main office is located in Great Neck, Long Island, and he has affiliate offices in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Gerry prides himself on knowing all the details of each case he handles. Cases are not handed off to associates. When a client calls, he doesn't need to check a file to determine what happened last on the client's case. He knows what happened, since he was the one who handled the matter.
Gerry has become a prolific writer and publishes a monthly newsletter full of legal news, fun trivia games, and a never-ending fictional story that has won him accolades with all who read his newsletter. In addition to his newsletter, he has produced and created an entire video library of instructional videos that help consumers learn about medical malpractice and accident law in New York.
Gerry welcomes all calls about any accident or injury from a doctor or hospital in the State of New York. He promises to give you a straightforward and honest answer about every question you ask. Take a look at his website, where he has over 200 FAQ's, free reports about medical malpractice, wrongful death and accident cases, actual testimony of doctors in cases he's handled, and an entire video library you really should see.
If that's not enough, take a look at his blog where he offers free information about medical malpractice and accident law and when you've finished reading his blog at http://nymedicalmalpractice.blogspot.com, jump over to his video blog where he has most of his videos posted at http://medicalmalpracticetutorial.blogspot.com - you'll be glad you did.