Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Does It Matter What Type of Car Your Lawyer Drives?

"What's a matter with the car I'm driving.  Can't you tell that it's out of style?  Should I get a set of white wall tires?   Are you gonna cruise the miracle mile?" 
-William Joel

During a recent visit to the local haberdashery, I overheard two women talking about hiring a lawyer.  Naturally, my ears perked up as I prepared to sneak a business card into the US Weekly one of the women was perusing.  Her son was in an auto accident and she needed someone to represent him.  "You should hire attorney so and so" said the lady as she fished through her oversize bag for coupons.  "He drives a Jaguar. "

The encounter made me think of my own jalopy.  Since law school, I had been driving a beat up truck with rust holes and a door that would only open from the passenger side.  It reminded me of an incident when a stuck client asked if I could give him a ride to his court appearance in New Haven.  I imagined my client's reaction as I scooted in through the passenger side to get to the driver's seat.  But the client left me no choice.  I sucked in my pride and picked him up.  Who cares what kind of car I drive? After all, Walmart founder Sam Walton drove a beat up pickup for years.  He was a billionaire.  Then again when you think of Walmart, you don't think of style.

With squeaking brakes and no heat, we arrived at the court house in the heart of Yale country. I parked my nightmare among a row of BMWs, Jaguars and (Mercedeses?  Mercedi?  Whatever the plural of Mercedes is).  I then proceeded to scoot out of the passenger side with the client.  I mustered an uneasy smile.  While I did win his case, my pride was restored only temporarily.  As we drove back to New Britain, the passenger door swung open.  My client held the door closed for dear life as we hobbled back to the office.  

I recognize that my scenario is a bit on the extreme side. But I hear clients talk. First impressions are human nature.  I started to wonder if a prosepective client pulled into our parking lot and saw that heap of junk parked in my reserved spot, would they turn around?  If I had a luxury car would the client think I charge too much?  Why was I concerned with this superficial nonsense.  I was confident in my abilities and had a good word of mouth reputation.  Who would care what kind of car I drove?  Clients who cared about such nonsense were not the type of clients I aspired towards.   I should learn a lesson from Icarus.  Fly straight and remain centered. Don't start getting fancy.  If you fly too high, you'll wind up in the ocean covered in feathers and melted wax.

But human nature remains. Whether intentional or not, the car you drive can make a statement. For example, take the way you dress for work. If I see a fellow attorney wearing a disheveled suit complimented with scuffed shoes, my first impression is the guy is an unsuccesful hack.  It's funny considering I am the one usually with the tie askew complete with the obligatory ketchup stain.  On the other hand, a well put together attorney can give off an air of confidence and success.  Wouldn't the same first impression apply to the car that attorney drove?  

My good friend owns a car dealership in Middletown called European Motor Cars.  They specialize in high end automobiles.  Not surprisingly, many of his clients are doctors, lawyers and other professionals.  I wondered how many of his customers purchased their cars to make some sort of statement. I posted the question on Facebook for an informal survey.  When choosing a professional does it matter what type of car he or she drives?

In other words, if given the choice between a lawyer who drove a Ford Focus and one that drove a Lexus, who would you choose? Domenica Hart chose the Ford Focus driving barrister because she assumed he or she would be more down to earth and willing to give more attention to the client.  Her first impression was that an attorney with a fancier ride might be more concerned with status and how good they looked in court.  Other reactions were mixed.

A sampling of our informal survey: 
  • Jacqua Curiel thought the watch worn by the professional was more indicative of success.  She quoted the bard Jay Z who noted that "I used to rock a bright watch, Now I rock the right watch".
  • Laurel Cox:  "I always gravitate to the less flamboyant. Don't have anything against successful people who want nice rides. Just prefer the people who could afford them and choose not to.
  • Karen DeVito Scheuritzel "If you can't do the car, do the shoes."
  • Publisher Michael Schroeder "I say a neat and conservative car is okay, but not ostentatious."
  • Attorney Richard Kosinski:  "The object of a MV is to get from point A to point B. Conspicuous consumption is symptomatic of our materialist society. I'm not so sure I would want as a client one who chose me based on the car I drive."
  • Attorney Patricia Thompson  "To me a Lexus indicates high living and charging too much"
  • Attorney Scott McGowan  "People will say they want the ethical, economy car driving guy but that only works out in the movies. It's been human nature since the beginning of human nature to follow those with symbols of power, whether it be a muscular body to now where we present symbols of wealth and status. People will want to see you driving a Mercedes instead of a Focus. They will assume you are better at what you do. OF course the guy driving the Mercedes could be living in his parent's basement and dumping every dollar he has into the Mercedes lease while the guy driving the Focus could be driving it home to a $900,000 mansion."
  • Paula Scolaro "It does not matter what they drive- ethics are everything!"
  • Karen Bedlack · "A clean car matters.... But any make/ model works. To me its quality of work & reputation over image. After all... You dont drive into the courtroom.... Also, in many cities, you would be a fool to drive when public transportation is so much smarter!"
  • Bail Bondsman Chris Linhoff :  "The car should be fitting to the level of the individuals success and appropriately parallel to the clients they serve. Personally I have learned that materialistic goods mean nothing and would choose the attorney with the more economical ride because it shows me they are not desirous of wealth."   
  • Karol Steczkowski "I have seen many successful sales people drive a compact Toyota or Honda. As long as it is a clean car, there is no issue."
  • Matt Staron: "Depends...if your 30 years old and drive a Maserati and act like a douche then piss off. If your 50 and drive a nice Mercedes and are polite and professional then I think you made your money doing the right thing over a long period of time and have a lot of clients." 
  • Mike Kiraly: "The nice car lawyer gets my money. I know I'm smarter than that, but I've got to be honest. This is just the way our world works. And while we're at it: the lawyer who is in better physical shape, the lawyer with the nicer suit, the lawyer who is better groomed, the lawyer who has a nicer office, etc all get my money first. UNLESS, I have a personal recommendation from someone I trust. Then it wouldn't matter if he was Lionel Hutz - the lawyer with the recommendation gets my money every time." 
  • Professor Van Hartmann: "To me, it's part of the equation, but not the final sum."
  • Newspaper publisher Robert Skarba surmised that "Public perception does matter, but in the end, it`s the quality of personal contact and end results that help (or don`t help) a professional earn a "good" reputation. You don`t just earn it on the merit of a car you drive."

So in the end, does it matter what kind of car you drive?  Do you really need that validation?  Does the perception of success outweigh practical concerns in owning a luxury car?  Do you really think owning a Jaguar will make people think you're a great lawyer?  Of course not.  So what's my point?  I guess the whole point of this post is........well.......I really wanted a new car.    Owning a luxury car wouldn't make me a better lawyer, but I had to convince my wife otherwise.  So just go with it. Back me up here.

Is it so wrong that I want something with a little curb appeal? Something that I would enjoy driving to court houses hidden in the farthest corners of the state.  The office was doing fairly well and I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labor.  Truth be told, I already went out and bought the car. Now I need to justify the purchase.  I didn't go crazy.  Instead of buying a brand new mid range car, I bought a used luxury car.  Choosing a navy blue finish over a canary yellow paint job with orange flames, I find it elegant yet understated.  With the body style virtually unchanged for several years, my car looked brand new.  I paid less than I would have for a brand new Kia.  Truth be told, I think it was worth it.  As I sit wrapped in leather and surround sound speakers, I don't find driving to be much of a chore anymore.  I find myself having a bit more confidence as I pass my logo keys through the court house metal detector.  My new car doesn't make me a better lawyer, but I sure do feel like one.  Well, maybe not right now.  My new car is actually in the shop.  Until I get it back, I am driving the old jalopy again.  If you need a ride to court, give me a call.  You'll hear me coming.


Meghan Freed said...

Fun post. I had a case with a lawyer who wore a Burberry tie to pick a jury. Not just a tie that happened to be made by Burberry, a tie with covered in the giant, iconic Burberry plaid.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful wonderful post. You sir are quite a writer. :)

James Corbin said...


Just wanted to let you know I enjoy your entertaining yet informative posts.

Anonymous said...

During a recent visit to the local haberdashery - Love it!!!

Anonymous said...

Adrian, I found this on a real estate site: "Generally speaking, most folks ARE going to equate success with how you look, what you drive, etc. People are generally more attracted to people they view as successful, don't you think?

Depending on your target market and your client base, perhaps it won't matter, but I have actually had people say to me, "you obviously know what you are doing!" when seeing my car. Is that necessarily true? Well, of course not, but perception is reality.

Again, though, it can be market specific and depends on what kind of clients you hope to attract. I drive what my peers drive because that's basically who my clients are. I can tell you they'd be mighty uncomfortable if I showed up in a Honda Element because that would just confuse their senses.

I live in a market where it seems every other car on the road is a luxury car, so driving a nice car is the norm, not the exception. If you are in a different type of market, then adjust accordingly."

Anonymous said...

I may need to upgrade my car. Entertaining post. Love it.

Anonymous said...

A very timely article for me, I'm glad I found it. I am a lawyer in Chicago and I am currently debating whether to trade my insanely practical but incredibly boring Prius for my desired ride: a new BMW 3 series. My clients rarely see my car, but when they do, I always wonder what they think of the Prius. They probably don't even care. For me, it's about treating myself a bit. I really like cars a lot more than the average person. I do worry about the appearance of driving a fancy car when so many people are hurting now financially. I think the bottom line is that you should not care what people think about your car, clients or anyone else. Rather, you should drive a car that you can afford and that makes you happy.

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Anonymous said...

I loved this post. This was the reason my husband gave me for buying a SAAB years ago. Spot on. :)

Anonymous said...

I think about this all time. I have concluded that for the most part the car doesn't matter. However, once you have a nice ride it's hard to downgrade. So, if you are a lawyer with a conservative budget ride keep it that way. Once you get a luxury car it's awkward to go backwards.

Jack Chapman said...

I really like this post. I first thought that you weren’t going to buy the new car, but then you already bought it and was just really figuring out how to justify the purchase. A new car is always a welcome investment to anyone. Some buy for making a good impression with potential clients, while some just for safety and the new fancy features incorporated in today’s cars. But no car, new or old, would last long if the owner doesn’t care for it properly.

Jack Chapman

Rich Cassidy said...

Love your post. I'm having the internal debate about whether to buy a new car or not, even though my old one is perfectly serviceable. Looks bad though. Thanks for the justification. I think I will buy a new car!


Maggie Malone said...

Well, this is the real deal: many people might judge you according to the car you’re driving, but what matters is the reputation you are holding. It happens all the time that people will say something regarding every aspect of your life, and there are times that you will be affected. In the end, we must realize that what they say will remain a gossip until you tell them the truth! :)

Maggie Malone

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Bill Stewart said...

Maybe I need to get a jaguar. Sounds like a good plan. But I honestly don't think it matters what they drive. Just look at results, their efficiency. I think surrey lawyers is a good example of this.

Equus Spirit said...

Do what doctors do, Adrian.

They lease.

Not ever going to see a MD plunking down money for a high end car to show off in that is going to depreciate on him. They LEASE and they do it in the business name.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this Adrian, you're very witty. My husband is an attorney and is looking for a new car. Actually, a used car because he bought an Escalade for me, and I bought a sports car for our 16 year old son. He was looking for something very practical (boring). I told him I want him to have something he'll enjoy because he has worked long & hard. Last night, he was on his laptop and I could tell he saw something exciting. I asked what it was, and he said it was a Jaguar. It is several years old, but very elegant, and the body style hasn't changed much in years. Out of curiosity, I googled "what do lawyers drive" and your blog came up. I agree that people generally notice and evaluate what others drive. A nice car is a sign of success, but if it's flamboyant, people wonder if you are respectful of money, and wether or not you can be trusted with theirs. Thank you for your story, it ironically fit our situation so well, and after reading it, I think the jag will be perfect for him.

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Cedrick said...

This post made me chuckle a bit, considering that one of my favorite TV shows depicts a lawyer that is incredibly crafty and excellent at what he does, yet he drives a lemon around. I often imagine what his clients would think when seeing him pull up. In reality, I think the kind of car that a lawyer drives would really sway my decision to choose them or not. It's just human nature to associate success with other aspects of success, like the kind of car one drives, especially when matters of law are at hand.

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