Even in an age in which instantaneous online communications, remote access and teleconferencing have made it possible to dispense with a good deal of in-person business communications, I continue to practice in a realm which requires I spend (hopefully) quality time communicating face-to-face with my clients and their management. Clients, particularly smaller companies, want to meet and evaluate their lawyer. And they should, since I will be the “face” of the company if a given dispute is tried before a jury.
Equally important, during the investigation and discovery portions of the case, I need to meet and work closely with key management and employees, many of whom may be important witnesses. In all but the most unusual circumstances, these must be done face to face. I like to conduct as many of these meetings as possible at my client’s place of business. While I am aware of the risks that the visit of a strange lawyer to the plant, facility or office can be disruptive (frankly, we’re not really welcome anywhere . . . ), experience has taught me that in-person site visits–even if there isn’t anything at the site for me to particularly see–are useful and even preferred.
Why? First, my job in representing any company invariably requires a strong knowledge of how the industry and the business function. I can’t effectively establish an employee was fired for not doing his or her job (as opposed to discrimination or retaliation) without understanding what that job requires. I’ve found it’s much easier to learn the requirements of most jobs by watching employees in action. If there’s technology or a process involved, there is no substitute for seeing this first hand.
Second, an in-person site visit permits me to understand first hand the culture of the company. Is it a relaxed, constructive environment or a pressure cooker? Does everyone respect, or merely fear, their boss? In certain circumstances, knowing the physical make-up of the work space is important. In a sexual harassment case, for example, where the parties work in relation to one another may have significance. Finally, when the client is looking for documents, a visit to the client’s place of business can sometimes help speed the search and location of key documents, even if I am not doing the actual searching.
I know that some lawyers resist or would prefer to avoid visiting clients at their facilities, but I’m not sure why. One of the attractions of practicing law for me has always been the exposure to the inner workings of a variety of industries. I’ve had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the automotive, aviation, real estate, mortgage lending and other industries through my involvement in various cases. If you’re a curious person, the practice of law can be rewarding for this reason alone.
So, if your lawyer resists visiting you at your place of business ask him or her why. Then give me a call.