When someone calls or emails looking for help on a legal problem it usually takes less than 5 minutes on the phone or 1 email exchange to know whether I can help them.
Many times, people are calling about an area of the law in which I do not practice. It’s also common for people to call about getting—for lack of a better legal term—screwed. Usually you just can’t help people who have gotten screwed. It’s sad to have to tell folks that.
And then there are the folks whose problem is “a long story.” When I first opened my practice I didn’t know what this meant. I would patiently sit on the phone for people as they explained their problem. And explained. And explained some more.
They were being honest. It was a long story. Very long.
I have been on the phone with people who talked uninterrupted for—and I’m not exaggerating—over 30 minutes. Seriously.
Now I know what “it’s a long story” means. It means they don’t have a case. And they’ve been told that already.
A lawyer who hears “it’s a long story” is not the first lawyer to hear about this person’s problem. Figuring this out was the key to solving the mystery of the “it’s a long story” person.
What has happened is that the person has called a lawyer who listens to enough of the story to know that for whatever reason, it’s not a viable case. The lawyer then bails from the call. It usually repeats with at least one more lawyer. That leaves the person saying to himself, “hey, I haven’t even finished my story.”
So the next lawyer gets “it’s a long story.”
But the truth of the matter is that it’s not a long story. The person was unactionably screwed, didn’t suffer any damages or can’t emotionally accept the fact that they were not the victim that they think they were.
Viable cases are not long stories. They may have a lot of facts. They may be complicated. But the “story” is not long.
Someone stole my money is not a long story. Nor is that someone ran into me on the road, that a lawyer missed a filing deadline, that a nursing home didn’t take care of grandma or that someone violated our contract.
For people looking for a lawyer the message is clear. Never tell the lawyer that your problem “is a long story.” If you can’t summarize your problem in a few sentences, odds are that the lawyer will not be interested in the case. That may not sound fair. But that’s the reality paved the way by lots of prior long stories.