By Phoenix Criminal Defense Lawyer Joshua Davidson
We’ve all been there. A prospective new client walks into your office and asks you about one of the several other attorneys they have met with in their quest to find representation. How we handle this situation provides tremendous insight regarding our professionalism to both ourselves and new clients. As a matter of personal ethics, I am loath to bad mouth any of my colleagues – even when such criticism would be well founded. In my view, the better course is to inform the potential client that I would like to focus on my background, experience and philosophy rather than waste everyone’s time gossiping about some other lawyer. At the end of the day, if the potential client does not feel comfortable hiring me as her attorney, is she really going to take my advice on whose name should also get crossed off the list? In addition to taking the high road as a matter of professionalism, I believe it also makes good business sense. Prospective clients often come to us because they are facing potentially life-changing issues. The last thing they want to do is entrust their future in the hands of someone who seems more like a car salesman than a lawyer. By trash talking our competition, we ultimately diminish the prospective client’s view of our professionalism and, in the end, damage our own reputation and profitability. The situation can become more complicated when we are asked about another lawyer who is the subject of an ugly sanction by the state bar or has an awful reputation within the legal community. In such a case, do we not owe the potential client some degree of candor if we’re asked directly about the other attorney? Do we expose ourselves to any claims of negligence if the potential client is later harmed by another attorney we knew to be incompetent? In my view, the best way to deal with this dilemma is to avoid it. As soon as a potential client begins to mention another lawyer, it is my practice to politely interrupt and inform them that I don’t want them to tell me anything that they discussed with other counsel or express any opinions about them or the quality of their advice. By reminding the client that the decision of who they hire is ultimately theirs and suggesting that they should make the choice based on who they are most comfortable with, we both empower them and demonstrate our professionalism at the same time.