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Balancing Life and Practice

Some Law Firms Are Making House Calls

Associated Press

Carol Jordie was in a halo cast after an auto accident, with her neck and most of the ribs on her right side broken, when she and her husband sought lawyer Michael Wagman's help.

But instead of the Jordies going to Wagman's law office, Wagman visited them at their Ephrata home, sitting at the dining room table and talking with them over coffee. He visited eight to 10 times over a two-year period before the case was settled in their favor.

"When you're stressed out to begin with, it's easier to talk and relax when you're in a familiar environment," Carol Jordie said. "Basically, there's nothing more familiar than your own home."

In the struggle to make his firm different from all the others that do personal-injury work in Lancaster, Wagman makes house calls - something not even doctors do anymore.

"Sometimes, it's a case of necessity," Wagman said from his office in a restored rowhouse in this city about 60 miles west of Philadelphia.

"If you have a seriously injured person who can't get out of the house, obviously you go to the house or you're not going to be able to meet with them. But we just found that doing it as a matter of normal course appealed to people for the service it provides. It's not all that inconvenient to do."

Nationally, making house calls is not common among law firms, but not unheard of either.

"A lot of firms are doing it a little more," said Arthur Green, a New Hampshire lawyer who works with the law-practice management group of the American Bar Association. "They're more apt to go to a client's business or residence."

Small, consumer-oriented firms are offering house calls as a marketing tactic, while bigger firms that represent businesses believe they can understand a client better by seeing firsthand how the company is run, he said.

Wagman's three-person law firm, Wagman, Kreider & Wright, took the rare step of advertising its willingness to make house calls, airing spots on four local TV stations from July through October. So far, the response has been modest, and Wagman plans to re-air the commercials during the new year.

"I'd love to tell you we have so many clients beating down the doors that we have to send them elsewhere, but that's not the case," he said.

The house-call concept was a response to the saturated advertising market for lawyers that resulted after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977 allowed lawyers to advertise.

"Once everybody jumps on an advertising bandwagon of that sort, then the overall effect tends to even out. So what you're constantly trying to do in marketing yourself is to come up with a unique message," Wagman said. "And for small firms doing personal-injury work, there's sort of a limited number of things you can do."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press

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