Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'm still here

I admit it's been awhile. Work, travel, life. But I'm back. So, what do we want to talk about?
I was reently interviewed by The Wisconsin Law Journal about lawyers who do house calls. An odd topic, until I connected the dots. There is a lawyer here in Milwaukee who has spent a lot of money on TV ads, touting that he does house calls. Like, what's the big deal? I have been doing them for 31 years. But it must be a big deal, as why would he spend so much money on that issue?
My guess is some advertising mogul did a bunch of focus groups and found this was a hot button with potential clients. In our Internet age, we are used to having things "delivered" to us at our homes. Why not legal services?
I have copied the article below, I would appreciate your thoughts.

Attorneys making house calls

ImageClients aren’t counseled at the brick-and-mortar office of southwestern Minnesota firm Pluto Legal PLLC, although that building serves as the workplace for three staff members and attorney Lisa K. Pluto when she’s not working from her home.

Pluto is an estate planning and elder law attorney who travels to all her clients, making her a “house call attorney.”

“[I] meet with clients all over the state of Minnesota. We have clients from Luverne to Ely and everywhere in between,” she says. “We meet with them in the comfort of their own homes, at care facilities, at their advisor’s office or wherever they prefer.”

Pluto says there are many advantages to client house calls.

Near the top of her list is that it’s been a huge boost for her bottom line.

“It was the business model — sort of — of a previous firm I worked for,” she says. “They had about five offices all over the state. We decided that cost was not worth it and it was easier to just make house calls.

“Since we started three years ago, I have been booked out at least four weeks in advance.”

Pluto had concerns that clients wouldn’t be comfortable with the fact that her only traditional “land office” is at least 200 miles away. But no one has had a problem with it. Making herself accessible by giving out her cell number has helped in that regard.

She says, “My clients appreciate me coming to them. Many would not get the opportunity to do the planning if we didn’t make house calls.”

Steven B. Goff is a plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer who’s been making house calls for 30 years — although some clients want to come to his office, and he’s fine with that.

Goff, of Bye, Goff & Rohde Ltd. in River Falls, says that early on in his practice a mentor told him, “If you’re not good enough to meet with clients on their turf, you’re not good enough to take their case.”

“It shows clients that they have a lawyer who cares enough to come to them,” he says. “You get that back with the level of cooperation, for example when you need them to get you documents or respond to interrogatories. I’ve found that long term, it makes the relationship better.”

Making a comeback

Plaintiffs’ attorney Paul J. Scoptur, of Aiken & Scoptur SC, (http://plaintiffslaw.com/) has 31 years’ experience as a house call attorney.

House calls are nothing new, but they’re making a comeback in popularity, he says.

Scoptur learned about their value as a new lawyer, when a prospective client in East Troy told him he had an appointment with another lawyer on Monday, but if Scoptur could get to him sooner he’d consider changing his mind.

Scoptur left his Milwaukee office immediately and signed the client.

It’s simple, from his perspective: “We’re in a service profession.”

JD Haas, a Bloomington, Minn.-based lawyer, says his bankruptcy clients are especially impressed that he’s willing to come to them.

House calls are not unusual for cases involving the catastrophically injured, but they’re rare for clients seeking debt relief.

Haas says he’s happy to make the trip: It gives him an idea of clients’ actual day-to-day circumstances and it shows a level of respect and dignity they might not get elsewhere.

The downside

House calls might not work if you’re in a law firm that’s driven solely by the bottom line, because they can be expensive.

Pluto, Scoptur, Haas and Goff don’t bill their clients for mileage or directly charge for the visit, although Pluto’s car is a company car and all costs associated with it are expensed to her firm.

Sometimes a house call won’t produce any revenue, acknowledges Pluto.

“But I always look at it as positive marketing. Sometimes I may drive 100 miles to tell someone they don’t need to hire us. If they had a good experience, they may tell two friends, who tell two friends — it’s like the Breck commercial from the 1980s,” she says.

You also need to be willing to spend a lot of time in the car.

While Pluto enjoys the variety of destinations and puts her time behind the wheel to productive use returning calls, some people definitely wouldn’t like all that driving.

And she noted the unpredictable driving conditions from November to April in the upper Midwest — although she’s rarely had to cancel a meeting due to inclement conditions.

One last issue to consider is safety.

Goff says attorneys from his firm typically visit in pairs if it’s a first-time visit, while Scoptur notes there are neighborhoods in Milwaukee that should probably be avoided after dark.

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