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February 20, 2006

Being There: Availability.

Three weeks ago Allison Shields at Legal Ease Blog wrote a first-rate and thoughtful piece "How Available Are You?" and it deservedly attracted a lot of attention. About the same time, Tom Collins at MorePartnerIncome had a solid post on the same subject. Read these if you haven't. People noticed Allison's and Jim's posts and responded. These kinds of posts seem to hit a nerve. People want to talk about availability. At the request of a friend and first-rate lawyer, I'm working on a short review of a truly wonderful and needed book called The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering, by lawyer-author-consultant Jim Durham, formerly managing partner at Ropes & Gray and Law Firm Development Group. It's a fine, fine book--and I'll talk more about it another day. About halfway through the book, Jim talks about the importance of 24-hour "accessibility" and "responsiveness" to clients. Not everyone agrees with that one--but I loved it.

My firm's website has said since day one that we are available to clients 24-hours-a-day. And it's true. However, with planning, no one in our firm has ever been inconvenienced by our policy. Years ago 2 different lawyers with great credentials were asking Hull McGuire for work we couldn't get done without outside help. Each told me point blank in so many words that the "anti-quality-of-life/Rambo" (I'm paraphrasing) tones of our 24-hour promise on the website alone "scared" (now I'm quoting) them. We didn't stay in contact with either one professionally after they made their "quality of life" position clear. Nice guys--but I didn't want our clients anywhere near them.

The 24/7 ethos may be a minority view--old school, or maybe new school. But I think not being available to clients 24/7 (vacations included) is: (1) arrogant, (2) spoiled, and (3) just plain dumb. Nothing radical about this, folks. Attorneys are not royalty. And practicing law is often hard. Our clients deserve a lot. They are often hard-won from much larger firms. Competition is only increasing as we finally realize that "law is a business", and that we now live in a world which never sleeps. My firm wants to be the firm clients or would-be clients think of when they ask themselves: "Who can I get to do this now? Like right now?" With the exception of one German manufacturing client (and I was glad the rep in that case woke me up), in 20 years no one has ever called me at 3:00 in the morning. But if you are trying to discourage a good business client from calling you on the weekends or at odd hours, or during your family vacation, tell them to call me collect. Be glad to take the call. For each client or industry we serve, we always have two people who can take your client's call.

Posted by JD Hull at February 20, 2006 08:06 PM

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