“Every entrepreneur knows that first impressions are important, but you may not know just how little time you have to actually make one. Within the first seven seconds of meeting, people will have a solid impression of who you are — and some research suggests a tenth of a second is all it takes to start determining traits like trustworthiness,” according to an article by Forbes contributor Serenity Gibbons.  Seven seconds.  I’ve been waiting over 7 weeks for a law firm to return a phone call and email – suffice it to say, I’m not impressed.

I guess I’m fortunate to say that I’ve never had to hire a lawyer for a personal matter.  Throughout my career, I’ve worked with a lot of lawyers on a variety of business-related matters, and now, of course, my business is primarily related to lawyers and organizations that serve lawyers. But I’ve never had to go through the process of hiring one on my own.

A few months ago, I reconnected with a friend who I hadn’t seen or talk to in a few years. In the time that we lost touch, he had been through a harrowing experience, to say the least. After experiencing  horrible headaches, doctors discovered that he had a brain tumor. While of course the news was jarring, he was comforted by the very high survival rating for this particular type of tumor, and he was given the impression that once the tumor was removed, if all went well, he could resume his day-to-day to life.

Unfortunately for my friend, one surgery led to another and then yet another, and in total, he heroically had to endure 11 brain surgeries in the course of 12 months.  Yikes.

Two of the 11 surgeries didn’t go as planned.  During one surgery,  he developed “hospital acquired bacterial meningitis,” which meant a 6-week hospital stay.  In a separate surgery intended to clean up scar tissue and other damage from previous surgeries, his doctor shared with him that something had gone awry. As a result, he lost most of the function in his right arm and leg, significantly impeding his ability to live independently.  Amazingly, his mind and cognitive processes remain unchanged.

When we reconnected, I encouraged him to talk to an attorney.  I didn’t know if there was a “there, there,” but in all my time working with lawyers, I’ve learned that it never hurts to ask. At first he was hesitant, knowing that no compensation would ever allow him to go back to his life pre-brain tumor, but I encouraged him to let me tap into my legal network and at least find someone for him to talk to about his situation.

My first email went to the “go-to” high-profile personal injury lawyer in San Diego, who I had worked with when he served on the San Diego County Bar Association Board of Directors.  He very promptly called me directly (A+ for intake protocol and  good will) to tell me that there was a better fit – a firm that specialized in medical negligence and malpractice and had a lot of experience with brain injuries.

I directed my friend to that firm.  He filled out a form on their website and sent them an email.  I also sent an email, hoping that perhaps name recognition or the mention of the PI attorney’s referral might “warm up” this lead.  He followed up his email with a phone call a week later and was told “the attorneys have been away on vacation”  and will respond shortly.  Seven weeks later, neither of us has heard a word.

I tapped deeper into my network and sought referrals from other lawyers and I contacted several firms directly.  In total, between the two of us, we reached out to 8-10 law firms.  In response, two firms sent formulaic emails, saying the firms were either too busy to take the case or not interested.  The majority never responded.

Only two firms offered to  have phone conversations with my friend to assess his situation.  The lawyers at both firms – both small firm/solo practitioners – spent significant time talking to my friend, explaining the statute of limitations related to medical negligence, the nuances of his particular matter, recommending resources and thoroughly explaining  his options from a legal standpoint.  They shared that if he had a case, it wouldn’t be a “slam dunk” – time had passed and his surgeries were very complicated, and there would be a considerable cost to engaging experts.  They spent a lot of time talking to my friend, and when he got off the phone with them, he not only felt heard, but he felt as though they knew enough about his matter to provide proper counsel.

Whether or not he can or should pursue litigation is still up in the air, but through this experience, I have certainly learned a lot.

Awhile back, I shared in an ABA Bar Leader article that my network means that I often get asked where to find a “good lawyer.” Next time I’m asked for a referral to a medical malpractice/negligence attorney, there are only two firms I will recommend.