Many years ago when we were first starting Magnus, we learned a lesson, the hard way, about trusting clients, even prior clients, or their associates, when making research plans. We met with a client from our prior employer, at his request, and we came up a research plan for one of his cases. After the meeting, I sent a proposal, and because the attorney was busy and traveling, I communicated with the associate attorney working for the lead attorney – the prior client. He confirmed the research plans and assured us that everything was on track. Time was tight and we needed to recruit the mock jurors – something that costs money – so we advanced the money and started the recruit. About 2 days into the recruit and our research preparations, a call came in from the irate lead attorney who said “No, I didn’t authorize this – stop, do no work.” He had finally looked at the contract sent to him, via fax in those days, and he pulled the plug. We had spent, on his behalf, over a thousand dollars of our money by this time. We’d reserved conference space, and invested considerable time. The associate was apologetic, but there was no getting the project back on track. We learned several lessons and changed our policies accordingly. Lesson 1 – talk to the boss. Don’t accept an assignment based on talking with anyone but the boss. Lesson 2 – even with prior clients, get it in writing. Lesson 3 – don’t use your money – use the client’s money. This experience, and one other, were instructive in building our policies related to beginning engagements. These things made us more rigid, and have created additional challenges. Lesson 1, in particular, is difficult. Our clients are busy; catching the lead lawyer long enough for a telephone call can be difficult, and sometimes, it is impossible. In today’s world of email communications we can at least ensure that the boss is in the loop. And, by getting it in writing, and not using our money to fund the research, communication gaps do not impact our bank accounts.
“Talk to the boss” was an early, and painful, lesson learned in the early days of Magnus Research Consultants. Related to this learning experience was the realization that, when a client says, “The check is in the mail” or something similar, the check might not actually be in the mail (or sent via overnight delivery or deposited to our bank account via wire transfer). In fact, as it relates to the check, it might not have been written and further, it may never be written, even though the client assures us it is forthcoming. It only took one time, soon after we started our own company, for David and me to learn these important lessons regarding making sure the boss is on board with everything we are doing and not beginning any of our work until the client’s retainer check is in our hands. We have a lot of work to do on behalf of our clients, but we cannot begin any of our work without their signed contract authorizing our work and their payment of our retainer. David spends countless hours requesting, then re-requesting, then requesting once more, our retainer check. Without our clients’ payment of our “up front” costs, such as money for recruiting our research participants, we only have a theoretical plan, not an actual plan, to conduct their mock trial or other research. We often wait until the last minute to begin the jury recruit, not because we are lazy or unmotivated, but because “the boss” has not fully committed to the idea of working with us and/or has not paid our retainer. When this happens, all of us, particularly the people who have the thankless job of recruiting our research participants, become frustrated over our inability to begin our work. Sometimes, the client waits too long, forcing our hand, so to speak, resulting in our inability to work with him/her on the case.