Attorney at Law Magazine Dallas Publisher PJ Hines sat down with Peter Vogel to discuss his career.
AALM: What qualities do you believe separate a good attorney from an excellent attorney?
Vogel: Generally, I think honesty is the best policy and telling the truth is paramount. And, generally, excellent lawyers tell the truth about everything. As a result, everyone that they deal with recognizes that and they are not challenged by other lawyers, judges or clients. Often, clients make demands of lawyers to take positions which challenge this ability to tell the truth, so the really excellent lawyer will always figure out a way to satisfy the client and at the same time be truthful. On the other hand, there are lawyers who no one trusts because they never tell the truth, however clients, other lawyers, and judges usually recognize that they are not honest.
AALM: In terms of retaining clients, what single act do you believe is most effective?
Vogel: Treat your clients the way you would like to be treated, which includes fully informing clients about all reasonable alternatives including risks for each. That way the clients make decisions because they truly understand the risks and options, and this includes a frank description of the legal fees and expenses associated with each option so that the client is not surprised. Another facet of the candor is to send timely bills to clients so they are apprised of the costs as matters move along rather than waiting to conclude the project and then send one big bill unless of course that one big bill was offered at the outset.
AALM: What advice would you offer a newly licensed attorney?
Vogel: Get involved in the local bar association as a means of networking as a lawyer which affords the new lawyer the opportunity to get to know experienced lawyers who can help them on a day-today basis. For instance the Dallas Bar Association has monthly CLE luncheons and newly licensed lawyers should find a section that appeals to them in their practice area to attend each month. The networking flows pretty naturally after becoming a monthly regular which helps when showing up in court or negotiating contracts. Of course this applies equally for all lawyers, not just newly licensed attorneys.
AALM: How do you work to maintain balance between your home life and work life? What single tip would you offer a young attorney?
Vogel: Choose wisely about how much time you devote to your family, children and significant other because children are only young once. If you miss their childhood, it is not only your loss but that of the child. When I had young children, I decided to get up at 3 a.m. in the morning and work so that I could be home with them at dinner time and the evening. This does not work for everyone, of course, so I advise that everyone try to evaluate their own needs. Personally, I find that getting up every day at 3 a.m. allows me to get my work done and still have time to be with my family.
AALM: How important is culture when selecting the law firm you work with?
Vogel: The right firm culture is essential for every lawyer so they find other lawyers to work with who share similar work ethics, time demands and weekend/non-work hour interests. How to find the culture is not so simple because often a lawyer may only meet one or two lawyers before an offer is made without adequate opportunity to get to know the lawyers, staff and working environs. So the best course is try to see as many other professionals at the law firm as possible both within the law office and in social settings away from the office. That way it is more likely that a lawyer will find the right firm.
AALM: How do you stay in touch with past and current clients?
Vogel: I send emails periodically to update past clients about things that I think would interest them, and often invite them to have breakfast, lunch, dinner or coffee to discuss those issues. With current clients I regularly send emails about on-going cases or contracts to make sure they are current with every day matters. Also, I send invitations to past and current clients to webcasts on important subjects for them and their businesses. Overall I communicate with past and current clients with my twice weekly blog about Internet, IT and e-discovery and my monthly column in eCommerce Times. Sometimes I just pick up the phone and call a past or current client which is unusual these days, but gets their attention.