• Attorney Adrian Baron

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

 

 

I can still remember the first time I entered the stoic grey stone halls of my alma mater as a fresh faced law student. It was just as I pictured. The sounds of Vivaldi played in my head as I set upon the hallowed path to a life of law practice. I was in good company. Twenty five founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence were lawyers. Thirty two framers of our United States Constitution were lawyers. I would be entering a noble profession on the shoulders of giants. Perhaps, I would someday argue before the Supreme Court. Would I be at the forefront of a landmark decision that would change the lives of Americans?

 

Well, that Supreme Court caliber case hasn't crossed my desk. Choosing private law practice, I soon discovered I wasn't traversing down the fabled steps of the Supreme Court quite just yet. Instead, I found myself in a humid courtroom defending a client on a minor misdemeanor charge. Waiting for my case to be called, I listened to the lulling click clack of an old fan as we patiently waited for the judge. Fidgeting in my seat, I hoped the lawyer sitting uncomfortably close to me would get the hint to scooch over a bit. The smell of his Axe body spray was starting to make my eyes water.

Pro Tip: If your lawyer smells like Axe Body Spray, you're probably going to jail.

 

So what landmark crime did my client commit? He stole a full size salmon and tried to make a break for it with the fish hidden in his pants. (I don't know if you've ever attempted to run with a fish in your pants, but apparently it can make it difficult to escape).

 

The case of the stolen salmon wasn't the weirdest matter I have encountered in my career. I once defended an 87 year old woman who may or may not have stolen 16 porn DVDs. She said her husband was boring and she wanted to spice up her life. I've done divorces where battling couples fought over items like deer antlers, broken screen doors, unicorn paintings and cat visitation. I once had an immigration client proudly declare he was a terrorist. He came to the country on a tourist visa and confused the word "tourist" with "terrorist." I've had clients caught trying to beat drug tests with an item called the Wizinator (Oh, just Google it). I've had real estate closings sour because a fortune teller told my client her prospective home was haunted. I thought I had many lawyers beat. Whoever is getting this next case will be a worthy challenger.

 

Here in the Nutmeg State, a man by the name of Badr Musaed was arrested on animal cruelty charges following a rather disturbing incident right out of a quirky Quentin Tarantino film. Apparently, a cow escaped from a facility called Saba Live Poultry in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Are you with me so far? Robbing the cow of his Shawshank moment, Badr chased the Houdini hoofer into a Home Depot parking lot. He was joined by a contractor who happened to be in the area. Naturally, the contractor was armed with a bow & arrow to hunt the cow. Still with me? Moo-ving on.

 

Apparently, the contractor had the shooting skills of a Storm Trooper. He shot an arrow at the cow and missed. To be fair, he did manage to hit the Home Depot. His wayward arrow stuck into the wall. ( I imagine that Home Depot sign will look nice hanging over his mantle fireplace).

 

This is where it gets ugly. According to the police report, Mr. Musaed then allegedly (as we lawyers like to say) pulled out a foot long knife and cut the cow's throat. In a Home Depot parking lot. After a man shooting an arrow missed the cow......... In a Home Depot parking lot.

 

Did I mention this all occurred in a Home Depot parking lot. As you can imagine, the shocking display in front of a child did not go over well. Did I forget to mention this happened in front of a kid? And a police officer? In a Home Depot Parking lot? Anyway. Still with me? I don't want to milk this but let's keep moo-vin on.

 

As you can imagine, the community was outraged over the horrific act. A vigil of about 50 people was held for the cow in the following days. They named the calf "Courage" A man pretending to be a protester pulled out a hamburger and a megaphone and began mocking the vigil goers. Because, of course he did.

 

Now, I don't want to make light of a serious incident. Animal cruelty is absolutely reprehensible and a serious crime. The defendant has been charged with cruelty to animals and a bond was set at $10,000 (In Connecticut, Cruelty to Animals is a Class A Misdemeanor that can carry up to a year in jail). Saba Poultry is not off the hook either. An investigation by Connecticut's Agriculture Department found fat, feathers and filth on processing tables, a lack of hot water, problems with proper sanitation, unclean surfaces and a band saw chunked up with bones and fat. They have been shut down until they can fix their problems.

 

Imagine being the lawyer who has to explain this incident to a prosecutor. He or she will be making that argument on August 23rd in Hartford Community Court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently caught up with an old law school friend who was lamenting that a particular Superior Court prosecutor did not like him very much. No matter how hard he tried, his clients seemed to constantly get bad pretrial offers. "The guy is a jerk" he blasted. "He hates me." My friend sounded like a dejected elementary school student who was convinced his teacher was out to get him. He ranted about how he was always sitting around in court for hours waiting for his case to be called. For some reason, his case always seemed to end up at the bottom of the pile. "That prosecutor is on a power trip. They all are. You know what I'm talking about right?"

 

I disagreed with him. I thought the particular prosecutor he complained about was tough, but always pretty fair. “Maybe he’s just not that into you.” I reasoned. "Have you considered changing your cologne?"(Editor's note: If any of our fine Connecticut State prosecutors happen to be reading this, I consider the state's attorney's office in Connecticut among the better...nay....the finest in the nation).

 

Olfactory issues aside, my interest was piqued in how he handled himself in court. I volunteered to shadow him on a day we both had criminal matters in a courthouse outside Hartford County. We were both making straightforward continuance requests in our cases. Nothing complicated. As the day progressed, it would not take me long to deduce the error of his ways. It soon dawned on me that it had nothing to do with his ability as a lawyer. It was elementary, dear Watson. Simply stated, the guy was a complete jackass. For the purpose of our story, let’s call him Richard.

 

Our journey began at the courthouse entrance. Entering the grand structure, Richard and I made use of the special “VIP” access many lawyers enjoy at some local state court houses. (If you are not familiar with this practice, attorneys are often given the courtesy of being able to jump the line or enter the court through a separate attorney entrance. It always makes me feel like Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas" as he is being led through the kitchen of the Copacabana to his front row table. Sometimes, I feel like I should be tipping a doorman. But I digress) Unfortunately, a visibly pregnant woman did not realize we were "made men" and she started to complain that we were cutting the line. Richard's response to her was “you should have gone to law school, lady." I let the poor woman go ahead of me and pretended not to know Mr. Entitlement.

 

 

Of course, King Richard was in a rush and decided to focus his charm on someone else. He started giving a hard time to the poor court marshal manning the metal detector. “I don’t have all day.” The court marshal shared a disapproving glance with me and then proceeded to examine Richard as if he was the offspring of Osama Bin Laden and Bill Buckner. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Richard taking off his shoes, belt, and cufflinks. While he was standing in his socks emptying the coins out of his pockets, I entered through a separate detector. I greeted the marshal by name. Despite being there almost everyday, Richard never bothered to learn it. “Go right ahead Adrian” was the reply. As I walked through, it appeared Richard was getting a full body cavity search that put the current stringent TSA searches to shame.

 

 

Our next step was to proceed to the courtroom. The procedure was to first obtain your client's file from the marshal and then to stand in line to see the next available prosecutor. Richard gave his client’s name to the marshal with the suggestion that the retired cop "pick up the pace." The marshal told him to wait a moment and proceeded to instead hand me my files. "How's the wife?" he asked. "Great." I thanked him by name and proceeded to the state’s attorney where I asked for a continuance so that I could review a videotape that had just been made available. “What date would you like counselor?”

 

It was now Richard’s turn. Upset that it took a bit longer to find his file, , Richard threw it on the prosecutor's desk. It landed with a thud as Richard started making demands. “Listen, I have another matter I need to get to. Just give me a new date.” Without raising his head, the prosecutor's face began transforming into that of an old rugged cowboy. His eyes began to squint as he chomped down on the dangling Bic pen in his mouth. It resembled a well chewed cigar. I could have sworn I heard the haunting whistles of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

 

“Counselor, do you have your appearance form as required by the Connecticut practice book?” he asked with the low gravely voice of a weather beaten cowboy. "Seriously?"

 

 

With a huff, Richard got out of line and hastily prepared the pink form. When he returned, another lawyer was already speaking to the prosecutor. “I was here first” he stammered. The prosecutor looked up at Richard and admonished him to wait his turn. Richard made his second pass. “Counselor, do you have an additional copy of the appearance for the clerk as required by the Connecticut practice book. Well do you?......punk" (Editors note: OK so the prosecutor did not actually call him a punk and I do realize that line comes from a completely different Eastwood film. ) "Come on!" he grumbled. Richard returned with the additional form and was told again to stand in line. He finally made it back to the prosecutor's table. "It looks like we are going to have to put your continuance request on the record. You’ll have to wait for the judge. Unfortunately, he's running a little late today.” I smiled at Richard and told him I would catch up with him at high noon.

 

 

Richard’s unfortunate court demeanor reminded me of a guy named Billy Zabka. From Back to School to the Karate Kid, Billy was the actor that appeared to play the consummate bully in virtually every teen movie produced in the 80s. Although the actor was a nice guy in real life, the parts he played gave the impression that he was a jerk. It's the same reason actors playing soap opera villains get slapped in the street by angry housewives. Richard's act fit the same mold. Truth be told. Richard is actually a good guy. Although I would never let him date my sister, I considered him to be a pretty decent human being. Unfortunately, he has this odd notion that, as an attorney, he must appear as an aggressive blowhard to get an "edge".

 

 

From the moment he enters the court house, Richard is rude to everyone from the marshals to the court clerks. He acts as everyone is beneath him. He comes off very aggressive. While there is a time and a place for being aggressive and you should advocate fiercely for your client, this doesn't excuse you from being a decent human being. You would be surprised how far a little civility will get you. In any event, I think Richard picked up the obnoxious trait from his dear old mother (And I will surely suffer for this comment). His mother is the type of person that yells at waiters thinking it will lead to better service. She doesn't realize that the waiter is probably spitting in her food.

 

 

What Richard failed to realize was that courthouses can be pretty tight knit. Marshals talk to prosecutors. Clerks talk to judges. People tend to notice how you treat people. Pretty soon, you have a reputation for being a mean spirited bully. It is a reputation you do not want to have. Clerks hold the key to scheduling matters on busy dockets. Court marshals have the ability to usher you in the court faster when you are running late. Secretaries have the judge's ear for the better part of the day. Is it really a good idea to piss these people off? Besides, didn't you learn anything from 1980s cinema? The bully never wins.

  • Attorney Adrian Baron
Your Marketing Should Not Be Limited to Just Advertising

Ben Franklin once said that the Constitution only guarantees you the right to the pursuit of happiness, you have to catch it yourself. In other words, don't wait for opportunities to happen, make them happen. Whatever type of law you practice, networking should be a part of your business development plan. I'm not talking about Facebook or Twitter social networking here. I am talking about old school Rat Pack schmoozing in the smooth "shaken not stirred" Sean Connery style. The kind of networking that actually makes you leave your computer screen in order to speak to a real honest to goodness living person.

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In the olden days of rotary phones, wizards and dragons, business was not as hard to come by. There were simply not that many attorneys pounding the pavement. You hung a shingle and business came primarily through word of mouth. Since advertising was prohibited, your business depended pretty much on your reputation and your ability to network. I've spoken to lawyers and judges who recall those days when attorneys would address each other with deference in the court room. Today, you hear stories of attorneys calling each other jackass in open court. Last week, I watched in horror as a divorce attorney told an extremely patient judge that "even a first year law student" could understand his argument. You could hear a pin drop. At least until the judge laid into the schmuck.

Perhaps the greatest change in our profession has been in the realm of advertising. In an increasingly competitive market, lawyers splash over the top ads on billboards and buses. The dignity of the profession is put into question as our bar bretheren turn into snake oil salesmen hawking their wares on late night tv. Some of it has really gone to the point of absurdity. Here, in Connecticut, we have more than one firm that hires scantily clad girls to appear at motorcycle rallies as official representatives. (For example, the -Insert name- Law Firm Girls. I only mention this because my own wife won't let me do this with my firm.)

 

In my search of the web, I found a Divorce Deli Lawyer who offers free biscotti with every divorce, a NY law firm with a retrofitted mobile school bus office, a lawyer who performs magic tricks in court, and an attorney who advertises on billboards in her lingerie. So how do you compete if your advertising budget is regulated to a few sad fliers taped on the window of a local Stop & Shop alongside some babysitting job announcements? Or maybe you just don't want to tarnish your firm's reputation with a late night tv spot followed by the steel drums of a Girls Gone Wild infomercial.

 

Some might say I'm a dreamer, but I can't even imagine a world without lawyer advertising.

In 1977, the average cost of a gallon of gas was 65 cents and you could buy a house for about $49,000. In that year, France performed their last execution by guillotine, Carter was president and Bates v. State Bar of Arizona set the stage for a new era of lawyer advertising. As a nation, we were introduced to the phrase "Have you ever been injured in an auto accident?" Before the rule change prohibiting advertising, lawyers had to work hard to build up a good client base. They shared crisp linen business cards and joined civic associations. They gave seminars and held business lunches. Some could generate a year's worth of operating expenses on the back nine.

Unfortunately, schmoozing seems to have become a dying art. Today's lawyers would rather hire William Shatner to do a tv commercial for them during the Price is Right. Others would rather put up a billboard directly across the street from a favorite watering hole or hospital emergency room. Lawyers see their competitors have success with advertising and they want to jump on the bandwagon.

I give myself as an example. In addition to my many skills that include being able to quote Caddy Shack, I happen to be fluent in Polish. Our firm decided to put put an advertisement in a small local Polish language newspaper to let the Polish community know about this service. Soon, the blood was in the water. Over 20,000 residents of the city of New Britain were Polish. Other firms started noticing that we were gaining a lion's share of the Polish community's business and assumed it was the next untapped market. The local paper soon had advertisements from approximately 20 different law firms. Many hired Polish speaking "secretaries" or "marketing directors" in order to get in on the action. (I actually called one of the firms "Polish lines" which connected me to a Polish woman's cell phone as she was doing the dishes. I could hear the dog and the Maury Povich show in the background).

These bandwagon firms did not realize that the secret to our success was not advertising. With about a dozen law firm ads crammed into the paper, the ads became less effective. It was white noise. No one stood out from the pack.

Personally, I was looking for long term success. I didn't want to be Menudo. I wanted to be the Rolling Stones. So how did we stand out from the crowd? The secret to our success was old fashioned networking. Our firm became a member of the community. We put on free legal seminars for area residents. We joined civic associations and chambers of commerce.

We donated to local causes. I met with business owners and ate at local restaurants. We built up relationships with area attorneys in other fields of practice. I wrote a legal issues column and supported local community groups. We also built up a reputation of doing a good job. That was our marketing.

Attorney Jim Calloway, the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association's Management Assistance Progam summed it up brilliantly. Marketing is not advertising. In an article entitled, "Marketing Magic for Lawyers", Attorney Calloway asked if given the choice would you rather have a dynamic website or a talkative beautician in a busy hair salon.

Jim made an excellent point in his piece that is often overlooked by attorneys. As Jim puts it:"Anecdotal evidence suggests to many of us that many of our problem clients were developed through advertising. They have no connection to you. They often treat you as a part of a legal system that they feel treats them unfairly. They often have no idea of the price of legal services, except for some ridiculously low price advertising for routine matters."

Placing ads can be a little like fishing. You never know what you'll catch. I prefer referrals.

The hope is someone who likes you will not refer a nutjob to you. We also decided not to engage in an ad war with our competitors. In the past, we would place an ad. The following week, a local firm would pay extra to be on the front page of the same paper. It was ridiculous. We decided to instead put the money back into our office. We improved our infrastructure with better office management software, computers and phones. We invested in the appearance of our office with hardwood floors, elegant furniture, paintings and sculptures.

It also didn't hurt that I spoke Polish fluently. Clients didn't need to bring an interpreter to meet with me. Other firms came off as "carpet baggers." We invested in the neighborhood and were familiar faces. We advertise less. We network more.

Basically, if you want to be successful in the art of the schmooze, take a tip from the Rat Pack. Network with the local bigwigs. Tip the doormen and waitresses. And put on a great show. They'll keep coming back for the encore. More importantly, they'll tell their friends. (Editors note: I encourage you to check out Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog).