Being Prepared for an Unexpected Opportunity
In the summer of 2004, two friends and I backpacked Europe for ten weeks on a shoestring budget. Knowing this opportunity wouldn’t come again, I carried my camera with me everywhere. I burned through dozens of rolls of film. In fact, I only remember going out once without a camera, and I remember it well. It haunts me. We were staying at a cottage near Chamonix, France. Late one afternoon, as the light was beginning to falter, I began walking from the cottage to a pay phone a mile or so up the road. As I looked up at the mountains, a rainbow was reaching from one peak to another through the backlit, dusky mountains. It’s the greatest photograph I didn’t take. I was entirely unprepared to take advantage of my unexpected opportunity.
Spotting an Unexpected Opportunity
More recently, I was assigned a case. I discovered the trucking company had excess insurance coverage, so I called the excess carrier to put them on notice of the claim, even though it was a minor claim that I didn’t expect to get anywhere near the liability limits. I left a message for a claims adjuster, and the next day got a call from the VP of Claims. We talked through the facts and potential liability, and at what I expected to be the end of the conversation, he asked, “Do you have time to talk about something else?” “Sure.” He responded, “We just started writing coverage in Alabama, and we are looking for additional panel counsel. Are you interested?” I was driving the back way from Talladega to Birmingham, and nearly drove off the roadway. Once I recovered, I affirmed my interest. We had a long and interesting conversation, not only about the types of businesses they write coverage for, but also (and more importantly) about our case management philosophies, the importance of working efficiently and effectively, and the value of attorney-client collaboration.
I was prepared to meet this unexpected opportunity head-on. I had thought and written about these topics at length. When it came to practical aspects of Alabama law and answering questions he had about coverage and liability questions, I was prepared there too. I had made myself knowledge about recent developments in Alabama tort issues by doing the extra reading, non-billable reading necessary to keeping abreast of my practice areas.
Be Prepared, But Know Your Limitations
A significant part of being prepared for an opportunity is knowing your limitations. Limitations in knowledge, in experience, in authority. It’s easy to deceive yourself into believing those around us have all the answers. But they don’t, and they don’t reasonably expect you too either.
You’re going to get phone calls from clients that go something like this:
Our insured’s son’s girlfriend borrowed the insured vehicle without the insured’s knowledge or permission. She wrapped the car around a tree after being out at a bar all night. She’s dead and her friend, who was a passenger, is hurt pretty badly. Does our insured have any liability? And do we owe any defense or indemnity?
You may or may not know the answer to this right off-hand. If not, don’t just hazard a guess. There’s nothing wrong with responding, “Let me do a little research and get back to you.” What’s important is that you know where and how to find the answers, then get back to your client with the correct answers.
In this business, you never know when an unexpected opportunity might arise to meet someone’s need or form a new relationship. You’ve got to put in the time and effort to be prepared when those chances arrive at your doorstep.