Back to law school 2022: Getting clients to pamper you | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (September 2, 2022, 2:33 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Clients. If you have a practice, they’re helpful. However, how does one land them?

They certainly don’t teach you in law school how to attract clients.

But let me share some thoughts from my journey, or rather as Homer might say, my odyssey. (Not Homer Simpson).

After law school I presumed my legal career was set to fly as I scored A’s in contacts, torts and evidence. OK, I barely scraped through international law. But then again I never cared much about representing some country like Denmark in a possible dispute with Japan over fishing rights.

Initially I worked briefly at a big law firm which boasted blue-chip clients including one of Canada’s major banks.

Interestingly they made me sign a non-competition agreement not to poach their clients in the event that I left. Supposedly they feared I might invite the world-class bank’s CEO for coffee and entice him to move its business to me. A tempting thought. I probably would have to be careful though not to let on that I almost flunked international law.

I soon opened my solo practice, with trepidation. My first big break came early on right after my number one son Daniel was born. I went to a drug store to buy some Pampers and I struck up a conversation with the pharmacist, Harry. He told me he was not happy with his lawyer, noting the guy usually delayed returning his messages. He was now looking for a new lawyer who, “will give me A-1 service.”   

Given that I had some available downtime then, I assured him my specialty was promptly returning calls. I had no doubt I could deliver on this assurance. He soon sent me some decent business I can’t talk numbers, but I did say to myself, I no longer have to consider going after that bank CEO.

I did, however, have to butter Harry somewhat by continuing to buy all those Pampers from him even though they were overpriced there. 

As a sole practitioner managing a fledgling practice, I generally had to take on most whatever work came along and some of it was spooky.

I recall a collection case where my client’s debtor, a shady grocer in a seedy area of town, invited me to his store where he said he would personally give me the cash. Once at the store, he asked that I accompany him to the basement. Uh oh! I hesitantly did so without knowing what might be waiting for me. I was glad this was not Valentine’s Day. 

The basement was dimly lit and musty. The place resembled my vision of the Bastille; before it was stormed in 1789. I almost expected to hear the anguished cry of prisoners screaming, “Hey, we’re here. Grab that torch.”

I noticed what looked like an arch shaped tunnel entrance. I wondered whether it led to the local sewer system. I thought to myself if in the pinch I have to bolt, I could and venture through it. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables came to mind. I started to commiserate with Jean Valjean.

As my life to date flashed through my mind, I wondered whether it was a mistake to have left big law. Certainly that bank would never have sent me on this type of mission.

My adrenalin was rushing like Old Faithful. 

To my great relief the gentleman delivered the cash. And to boot he even offered me a Pepsi.

And so, what did I generally do to generate business? One popular advertisement resource was a bus stop bench ad. Not cheap. I sprung for one bench near a hospital hoping to attract personal injury cases. The problem was that waiting passengers would sit on the bench thereby blocking the message. I would pass by and was aghast that these people were so inconsiderate. I felt like shouting, “Hey, get your ass off my bench.” 

I think about it all now and am grateful that I had a comfortable practice. But what qualities, tricks or traits helped? You may be surprised.

A client once told me what he admired about me the most was that I was humble.

I was certainly surprised. Who knows? Then again if I admit I’m humble am I proving him wrong?

Other clients would say they were most impressed with me promptly returning their messages. I guess this habit I acquired out of involuntary circumstances after leaving big law, stuck.

Also as I speak French, I attracted a fair number of francophones. Actually one client who had a claim against a large fast-food outfit after finding a bug in his pizza, retained me as he just liked the name Marcel. I mention this as some colleagues might perhaps consider a name change to Marcel. You never know whether this move might land you that next client who ingests a bug lodged in their pizza.

What else worked for me? Deploying your God-given sense of humour always helps. You need not tell jokes. I simply had a humour board on my wall with cute notes, such as Far Side cartoons, bizarre news clippings and quotes from Einstein, Churchill and Mark Twain. Clients usually found looking at it pleasantly distracting. And it did help melt away the image of stiffness many have about lawyers. At worst humour will help manage your blood pressure. And maybe your adrenalin.

As I said initially they don’t teach you in law school how to attract clients. I will say we will all travel our own individual journey, or perhaps odyssey. Bon voyage.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available in paper and e-book versions where books are sold. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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