How to Ask Other Lawyers For Advice

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advice-from-lawyersAlthough I give away a lot of information and advice, I am regularly contacted by other lawyers looking for more, on everything from fixing their computers (which I do not do) to handling a debt buyer lawsuit (which I do). Those who act as if they are entitled to my knowledge and time do not get it. Those who are respectful of my time, at least, do.

There are (obviously) good and bad ways to approach another attorney for advice. If you want to maximize your chances of a good reception, here are a few tips:

Offer to pay for their time

You probably do not appreciate it when people call you looking for free advice; you should expect other lawyers to feel the same. This goes double for lawyers who are already giving away information and advice at seminars or online through a blog, e-mail list, or social network.

Offering to pay shows that you value the lawyer’s time and knowledge, and it is probably the single best thing you can do to get the help you are looking for. Most will turn you down. If they do, buy them lunch while you talk, instead.

Make an effort to meet in person

Rather than just firing off an e-mail, make an effort to meet someone before you ask them for special attention. If you cannot, because of distance, deadlines, or any other reason, try to make a personal connection in some other way.

One creative suggestion—although I have not have an opportunity to try it, yet—is to schedule a meeting over Skype, and send lunch so that two of you can eat lunch “together.” Or connect through a mutual acquaintance on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Schedule a time for your conversation

You can never be sure the attorney you are contacting has time or attention for you right now. So begin with a call or e-mail describing what you want to discuss, how long you would like to discuss it, and ask to schedule another time so the lawyer can work you into his or her schedule when it is convenient.

Hint: you will often get more time—and a better networking opportunity—if you schedule coffee or lunch, instead of just a phone call. And make it convenient for the other lawyer; offer to meet them near their office.

Send a thank you

If you get help, send a thank-you note. Eco-friendliness is all well and good, but a recycled card will be much more appreciated than an e-mail. If the advice was especially helpful, consider sending a gift card.

(photo: gerry balding)

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  • Great tips, Sam. I particularly like the reminder to consider how the other lawyer will feel about our requests. Although that fundamental tenet of good manners sounds self-evident, applying it in the practice of law can be tough — which I think touches on a fundamental tension in the profession.

    Our profession is at once collaborative and proprietary. That is, we are in the business of selling our advice. Yet, to be good colleagues and community members and to advertise our practice, we sometimes give away our advice. Most of us do this willingly, but we do so with viligence. We cannot give away too much advice for free because we need to make a living.

    This tension is felt with clients all the time, particularly new or prospective ones. And I suspect that most readers can recall a client or would-be client that tried to exploit your generousity without paying. Odds are you ended (or should end) that relationship.

    Sam’s post is a good reminder that this sense of exploitation and disrespect can likewise be caused by disrespectful colleagues. Reputation is the cornerstone of our profession, so heed Sam’s advice and make sure that you cultivate and maintain a robust and collaborative professional network.

  • Excellent suggestions. I too provide much help to other lawyers via the phone, emails, listservs, and in person. This is one thing I’ve always loved about the law profession and lawyers – the mentoring and collegiality. Though not universal, it is widespread.

    Lawyers seeking help from other lawyers ideally will be respectful. A pet peeve of mine is when the questioner starts with “a quick question…” or “shouldn’t take long…” Their intention may be good, but it comes off as minimizing the value of the answer being sought, or the time spent doing so. My advice here would be: Don’t be shy or apologetic, just ask! And avoid minimizing the value of the other lawyer’s time.

  • Paul ODonnell

    I work as a solo attorney in Massacusetts.I occasionally consult with other barristers on topics I am unfamiliar with. Most consulted lawyers proved to be exceptionally helpful Alternatively,the Mass bar Association maintains a mentoring service that provides significant assistance

  • We are contacted almost weekly with questions. Probably because we’ve always gone out of our way to help other lawyers out. It’s just good business. Having said that, we really like it when the caller is polite and honest about needing help. And we’re with you. A demanding lawyer’s call will not even get transfered to my desk. A polite new lawyer with no clients but real questions and a nice attitude will get me 100% of the time. Much ongoing success! Mitch at http://www.TrialLawyerTips.com