216.282.1773 mliner@linerlegal.com
I am motivated by my failures. This column will have a different tone from what I have written in the past. Looking back, my columns generally seem to be about Liner Legal’s achievements, awards, and progress. In fact, we have accomplished a great deal since our founding in 2013. However, the reality is we are not perfect, and improvement is a constant goal in our office. I took the last week of December off to get away with my family.  It also gave me the chance to reflect on the prior year, as well as mentally prepare and plan for the year ahead. I was playing cards with some good friends in Florida on December 30 when I got a notification on my phone that there was a new review on our Google page. If you happen to have read my column just last month or have ever checked out any of the Google pages for our office locations, you know that I am overjoyed by the steady stream of positivity that has flowed to us in the form of online reviews from clients, colleagues, and other community members. But the review that evening was different. It was a 1-star review out of 5 possible stars. There were no comments with the review, but I was immediately able to figure out who the former client was that left it. Believe it or not, the purpose of this column is to thank her. It’s easy to get lost in my own hype–after all, I’m only human. Our review pages so often are filled with gratitude from clients thanking us for the difference we have made in their lives.  As a result, it is easy to overlook reality and admit that we have flaws—and then to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to improve. But that humbling review, the only genuine 1-star review Liner Legal has ever received on social media, has served as a reminder that improvement can never be on the back burner. The pursuit of perfection is the key to our long-term success and is what differentiates us from every other law firm in town. On the cover page of our website is a phrase I wrote more than five years ago which I am still particularly proud of: “One thing you should know about Liner Legal: we are extremely selective about which cases we agree to take, and [we] turn down as many clients as we take on. If we tell you that we cannot accept your case, it is not a judgment of you as a person. It is simply this: Liner Legal is a high-end firm and we choose to keep it that way.” Every time I decide on whether to accept representation of a potential client, I ask myself if I am living up to the bar I set when I wrote those words. To emphasize this watermark, we no longer accept a case if:
  1.    There has been a prior unfavorable decision by an ALJ
  2.    We are aware the potential client is currently represented by another attorney
  3.    There is evidence of non-compliance with prescribed treatment
  4.    There is evidence of ongoing substance abuse, material to the issue of disability OR
  5.   The potential new client is only treating with PCP’s or family medicine doctors (except for special circumstances) for complex medical issues requiring the care of a specialist.
Strong case selection is not where I think my failure to my clients has been. We work hard to keep clients involved in their cases, which in many cases merely means providing case updates by informing them about changes in claim status. However, that is not enough. Even following my guidelines for better case selection, the reality is, as the saying goes, “every rose has its thorn.” Almost every disability case beyond the initial application stage—no matter how obvious the client’s disability may seem—has some form of obstacle that needs to be overcome on the path to a favorable outcome. Whether there were communication issues between the client and their treating physician which resulted in underwhelming medical records, or a bad opinion from a nasty SSA consultative examiner, I am often shocked by what I find when I dive into a client’s file after accepting representation of a case. The difference between 1-star representation and 5-star representation, surprisingly, is not in the ultimate outcome of the case—win or lose. Rather, I think the difference between the number of stars in a rating is in the way a lawyer manages their client’s expectations at every peak and valley. Maybe it was my fear of disappointing an already-depressed or defeated client or perhaps I was afraid that telling them about the harmful evidence would only upset them, but up to now, I have been hesitant to tell clients right away about bad evidence. However, I now realize that the first thing I should do when I receive bad evidence is to pick up the phone and call my client. We and our clients are a team at Liner Legal. For a team to succeed, it needs to stick together through good and bad. In the future, when we become aware of challenges in a case, we will immediately let our clients know and will work with them on a plan for how to deal with it. Some of what we discover may leave us no choice but to advise our client to make the tough choice to withdraw their disability claim, but they should hear that from us promptly. Even when we don’t win a case, we should be offering 5-star service. Back to that 1-star reviewer–thank you. You have challenged me to think even deeper about myself as a lawyer, as a businessman, and as an advocate for my clients. I welcome anyone who reads this to leave me a review with constructive feedback—positive OR negative—about the work I and my team have done for you.  (To do so, follow this link: https://g.co/kgs/VBt3o9). It’s the only way we can improve. The pursuit of perfection is a never-ending chase. Michael Liner