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Don't Pitch Me

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Houston criminal-defense lawyer Herman Martinez wrote (three weeks ago, but it hit my blog reader today):

We enjoy reading emails from people, but lately we have received some that are way too long. to read. If you can not say what you want to say in one or two paragraphs please pick up the phone and call our office. We are very easy to reach when we are not in trial. It would save you a lot of your time. I must admit that when I receive a long email from our contact form on this blog I think it is something that has been cut/pasted and emailed to several other criminal attorneys in Houston. While that might not be the case, I am conscious that I am not giving as much attention as I would if had received a phone call.

(Herman raises an interesting topic, but I had to tag as "nofollow" the cloyingly keyword-laden post, with its call to action at the end. Blatantly commercial blogging will not be rewarded.)

I get these emails often: paragraphs (or, more often, a single run-on paragraph) of dense text explaining everything about the case. The theory seems to be that someone looking for a lawyer can type out an account of the case containing enough for any lawyer to decide how to defend it and how much it will cost, email it out to every lawyer he can find, and choose the lawyer based on the emailed responses.

There are a multitude of problems with this canned-sales-pitch approach.

These emails never contain the first things the lawyer needs to know about the case. When I'm called about a new case, I need to know who referred the caller, the relationship of the caller to the accused, the name of the accused, the date of birth the accused, what the charge is, and where the charge is pending. (Often I don't even need this much information because the caller's first words tell me that she will never hire me.)

These emails demand too much of a busy lawyer. What the emailer is doing is asking a lawyer to donate to the client enough time to plow through the email and extract any facts that are relevant to the lawyer. When I have the five pieces of information I've described, I have specific targeted relationship- and fact-specific questions. Only very rarely, where it appears that the accused is flat-out screwed will I ask the caller, out of curiosity, what her theory of the defense is-how she thinks we might win the case. I'm much more likely to spend some time learning about your case if you call me on the phone and I think you're serious than if you email me a screed and expect me to read it.

Most people, including most potential clients and their loved ones, don't write very well. This renders their longer emails hard to read, often to the point of incomprehensibility.

These emails require too little of the emailer. This is a virtue from the sender's point of view, sure, but most lawyers would probably agree with Brian Tannebaum that they would rather not be just one on a list of names. Lawyers are not fungible, and the more it seems that I am just one in a list, the less likely it is that I'll feel inclined to spend time on your problem (I love helping people, but I need another case a lot less than you need a good lawyer). The bulk email sent by a potential client to lawyers has the feel of spam; like spam, it's likely to be deleted rather than read.

Bulk emails may be a way to hire a certain sort of lawyer, but that sort of lawyer is the sort that is desperate enough for business that being one on a list is welcome.

I've said it before and will say it again: if you need to hire the best criminal-defense lawyer for your case and you don't already know one, talk to as many as you can on the phone, meet with as many as you can stand to in their offices, pick the one you best trust with your future, and find a way to pay him. There are no shortcuts.

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