“Or, why we’d like to help everyone, and why we can’t”
I suppose it’s been a long time coming, this blog, in which I try to explain briefly why we can only help between 5-10% of the people who reach out to us for help, and why we wish it could be 100% (but why it can’t).
First, let me tell you how we figure out whether we can help you. When you call or write the firm, your first point of contact is usually a staff person whose job it is to come up with an “intake sheet” that has your identifying information, how you found us or who referred you, and a few sentences about what your case concerns. Obviously, the staff person to whom you speak is not an attorney and certainly cannot answer questions about the law, legal fees, claims etc. What they can and will tell you is that your call or contact is very important to us, and that, unless it is an emergency, you will be responded to by a partner of the firm (only partners “vet” potential cases) within 24-48 hours maximum.
If, on the other hand, you have an emergency, they’ll make sure that someone speaks to you as soon as can be managed. Obviously, we hope that people appreciate how busy we are, and that, while we would love to talk to every potential new client the moment they contact us, we have many hundreds of existing civil rights, employment rights and other clients who have cases for which we are directly responsible. Those cases involve meetings, court dates, depositions, and other priorities that make the first claims on our time each day.
The next step in the process (whether you’ve called and created an intake sheet or whether you’ve emailed us) is that a partner will reach out to you and “vet” your case. When we do this, we like to ask questions that confine the issues. For example, one of the first things we’ll always want to know is whether or not you worked in New Jersey, because we can’t help you if you worked out of state. Another thing we’ll want to know is when you were last employed and by whom, because we have concerns about the potential expiration of applicable statutes of limitation or other deadlines. After we find out those details, we’ll start to “drill down,” starting in a broad fashion, and getting more specific as we go, asking the questions we need to ask in order to figure out if we can help you.
Honestly, some people balk at this. They want to “tell their story” in a way that works for them, but unfortunately, for most people, that involves taking much more time than an experienced attorney needs in order to figure out whether or not we want to give you one of our free appointments. Because the partners of this firm have conducted thousands of these calls, over decades, we know what we need to know and we know why it’s important. We always hope the people will cooperate with that effort because, after all, this effort is on their behalf. We’re trying to see if we can help you, and asking you the questions, in our order and in our way, is the most efficient way to do that.
Obviously, if there is no evidence of discrimination or retaliation or a violation of New Jersey or federal employment laws, we often find ourselves in the position (in excess of 90% of the time) of having to tell the perspective client that while we empathize and sympathize with their problem, and we certainly understand why they are upset, we can’t help them because the law doesn’t allow it.
Believe me, if we could change the law by filing lawsuits, we would. But we can’t. Only the State Legislature and the National Congress can affect state and federal employment and civil rights laws. We are attorneys and serve the law, but we cannot alter the law outside of legislative activity.
Please therefore respect and understand that while we would love to be able to tell you that tilting at a particular windmill might possibly change the law, that’s unrealistic. It can’t happen.
We also wish that we could spend as much time as you’d like us to listening to your story. And believe me, most often, we give the perspective client more time than we really need because we know that people sometimes just need to “feel heard” and that helps them feel a great deal better even if we can’t help them. We’re happy to extend these courtesies far more often than we can’t.
Believe me, we’d like to help everyone and be able to argue that “immoral,” “unfair,” “unreasonable,” unjustified,” “dishonest,” “political,” “personality driven or nepotistic acts and terminations” could go to court. Unfortunately, unless there’s also some illegal motivation aside from the unfairness of it all, we simply cannot do more than hear you, lend a sympathetic ear, and give what little advice we might be able to give under the circumstances.