If you haven’t experienced rejection, you are either delusional, or you haven’t been doing anything worthwhile. Rejection is an integral part of life well-lived. You can’t be everything to everyone, and someone is bound to be looking for something else. It’s just as true in your professional life as it is in your personal life. If you’re smart, you deal with it and learn from it.
I got a little bit of rejection recently. It’s nothing special, really. I fought hard for a client, and despite the results I achieved, they ended up switching lawyers before the real battle started. Although it’s nothing new, it still stung. I thought I had built a relationship. I cared about the client and his family, and I still do. I hope everything works out for them. I’m worried about them, though I think they are in very capable hands.
It’s one thing when someone hires a con-artist who promised them the moon. It’s another when they hire a well-regarded attorney who will probably do a great job. It’s happened, just as it will continue to happen so long as I continue to be honest about myself to each and every person who walks in the door, and there will always be a bad feeling somewhere deep down. Will the new lawyer, with his army of associates and staff, be there to fight for bail at 5:00 a.m. jail court? Will he do the work himself, or will he farm it out and pad the bill to justify partnership? Will it matter? Is that what they want?
Occasionally, I see how troubling it is that my office is on the first story. Some people get upset about how I don’t make the receptionist answer the phone if I’m in the office. Normally, the receptionist and the paralegal don’t even figure into the equation, as every client has my cell number. That’s the kiss of death for many prospective clients. There’s no mystique, and plenty of people love mystique.
The toughest thing may be that there are some people who don’t care about that. There are some people who look for things that are probably excellent indicators of legal acumen. They look for thing like decades of past success or huge, favorable verdicts. With those people, I may never win. Ten years from now, they’ll be looking for the guy with a quarter-century of experience. I’ll lose. In twenty years, they’ll be looking for the guy with fifty years. I’ll lose again. If I’ve just won a kidnapping trial, they want the guy who just won a murder trial. Some people want to play games I’ll never win. It may just end up a longevity competition.
The truth is that some people need someone other than me. It isn’t that I wouldn’t do a better job than the person they chose, but rather that they’d feel happier with the person they chose. Pretending that every client who doesn’t want me isn’t the kind client I’d want is just sour grapes. That approach leads to a career-long dead end. Truth be told, sometimes rejection is a good sign.
Although it may feel better in the short term to shrug off rejection knowing that some scumbag lawyer lied and cheated his way onto a case, in the long term, seeing the ones who got away competently represented is a sign of one of the best things that could happen to me.
It means that people are referring me good clients. It means I’m not getting people who show up because my website says I’m aggressive or caring or because I claim to offer payment plans. It means I’m in good company.
Contentment as a criminal defense lawyer means being a big fish in a big pond competing fairly to fight my heart out for people who trust me. If rejection is part of the equation, it’s worth it a million times over.