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Connecting with Clients

SUCCESSFUL ADVOCATION FOR REAL PEOPLE, WITH REAL PROBLEMS BEGINS WITH HUMAN LEVEL CONNECTION

“What may work for other firms is not necessarily what works for us. We do not follow trends but do our own thing and we take that philosophy to each case and in the operation of our own office,” says Andy Van Le, founder of Andy Van Le & Associates, PC.
Le takes pride in not copying other attorneys or the approaches other attorneys take. It’s not because those approaches are necessarily wrong, but that he and his staff prefer to treat each case and each client as individuals with individual challenges, which may not be best addressed automatically by what has been done before. “We work on the cases differently. We listen to our clients. We make sure they are taken care of first and foremost. We don’t follow other people’s paths to success. I’ve always done it my way,” Le says.

A Kitchen Magician

Nowhere is that leadership and innovation more visible than when a client first steps into the offices and sees—a kitchen. Their expectations of a standard wood-paneled office waiting room with a receptionist and doors leading to other offices and conference rooms are shattered by the sight of a professionally designed, white marble kitchen. The appearance is more like what one would expect from a high-end hotel or a design studio than a law office. The message given is obvious: this is not your typical law firm.
Le says, “While many people have voiced that I’ve ‘wasted’ 40 percent of the office space, because it could have been used for additional offices or work space, but to me the kitchen is the soul of every home and what better way to greet clients than to let them see our soul/kitchen. It has worked, as clients are more at ease and feel like they are not only clients but part of a family when they sign up with our firm/family.”

The firm’s clients come from all walks of life, nationalities, gender but all have one thing in common: they are in some way hurt and need legal help. Often that help leads to more than just legal advice and representation. “Clients often have only us to listen to their concerns, which can be anything from family matters, finances to just being lonely. Nonetheless, we are there for our clients. Because at the end of the day, our clients trust us enough to hire us, and listening to our clients’ every concern is the least we can do and the best way to know each and every one of our clients on a human level.”
Le opened his firm in 2006. Today he employs three attorneys and 15 non-attorney staff. They offer legal counsel in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Turning the Worst Moments into the Best of Times

Le began his legal career as an insurance defense counsel which, although providing the experience, was not a good fit for his personality. To him, the defense lacked personal contact with a real client and was instead enriching insurance companies and large corporations. This was not for him, as he thrives on helping real people and their real problems. He was soon sick of doing defense, especially in not being able to see the big picture. It was to him always piecemeal work. A radical change of thought occurred when he made the switch to doing plaintiff work.
“That was my ‘ah-ha’ moment. I thought, ‘This is much better!’ Instead of working with businesses you are working with real people and you are seeing for the first time the expressions on their faces when they’re feeling happy, when they’re sad, and you’re a direct result of your feelings. In plaintiff work you are basically it. You are the show from start to finish. You’d better know your client well.”

At Home in the Work Environment

“It may sound odd, but my philosophy has always been to create an environment where employees feel at home and don’t want to leave,” Le says.
In addition to the designer kitchen, the office has a gym, a racquet ball court and comfortable amenities and office furnishings. As the managing attorney, his duties are to watch over all the clients’ files including pre-litigation and litigation files, be the rainmaker and human resource officer. There is no end to the work, but he tries to hire the best and let his people handle cases without too much micromanagement. “I do insist on daily updates and reports from each employee from our file clerk to our most senior attorney. In the end, most people enjoy working at our office and Andy keeps in contact with almost every past employee to just check in with them to see how each is doing as they grow in their own way,” he says.

Touching Clients on a Human Level

Le’s favorite quote is “God has given you a great gift—your life. What will you do with it?” To me this is a powerful statement, it reminds me to always try to better myself each day whether it as a better attorney, husband, father or just a better person.” Le believes that today’s successful attorney must be more than just an advocate or legal advisor. His job description sometimes includes being a parent, a psychiatrist, a friend, and an advisor in many aspects of a client’s life. He tries to genuinely express as much empathy as possible, to sit back and invest the time to really listen, think and process and then come up with the best solution to their problem.
Le says, “Most attorneys can regurgitate the law, but successful attorneys are problem solvers that can relate to clients on a human level. That’s what today’s clients want and expect out of the attorney they hire.”
This approach has led to being one of the busiest offices in terms of volume. However, the firm never forgets to make time for each client. It is a must to get to know each of our clients not only about their case but about them as a person. The human connection is something he says the insurance companies his firm faces just don’t understand. Seeing only numbers instead of people doesn’t help their case and is in fact a trap they often fall into, Le says.
Working with people on an involved, personal level leads to success where other firms might achieve failure or less than desirable terms. Le cites a case taken over from a bigger firm in which it appeared that individual attention was never really given to the client. A large national firm was handling a plane crash case, but the clients were unhappy with the attention they received. Le’s firm took over and discovered that the previous firm had failed to name two additional plaintiffs and defendant. Le’s attorneys stepped in, named the plaintiffs and defendants, and were able to more than double the settlement. “Talking to a client is probably the most important thing we do as attorneys. I know so many clients so well they think I’m their best friend when they don’t have a best friend. I know about how they live, about their pain, about their kid’s problems, know about their family problems and how they eat or sleep or can’t sleep. How they can’t even communicate to people. If I don’t know that, if our staff doesn’t know that, then how could we present that to a jury so the jury would know that? It takes more than a few weeks prepping for a trial. It talks a full commitment, sometimes years, to really learn about a client.”
The difference that makes the difference in his firm’s success is their leadership in doing what is best for the client by listening, respecting their needs as well as the realities of the case, and, perhaps most important, treating each client like a member of the family.
“People like us, they trust us, and the people come back. We’ve taken a lot of cases other firms have turned down because of any number of reasons. Maybe it’s not a slam-dunk case or maybe they just want the client to settle outright.”
Le emigrated from Vietnam shortly after the war and was sponsored by a Catholic Church in Nebraska where he then grew up and would eventually go to law school. After graduating from law school, he found his way to San Diego and built his law career. Along the way to success, he has not forgotten his Vietnamese roots or Nebraska upbringing. Through his family he has created more than 100 charities including some of the most successful Vietnamese Charities in the world. As a Nebraskan, he is a big fan of the Cornhuskers and values the down-to-earth Christian nature of a Nebraska upbringing, hoping to instill the same values to his twin daughters. In addition to the law office, Le and his wife own a seafood restaurant, Submarine Crab, San Diego located on Convoy. In his free time, he loves spending quality time with his wife and twin girls who are almost always by his side.
That human connection, that family approach, extends to the people and families who come to Le for legal representation. “That’s more important to me. To touch people on a human level, to hear their story out, to know what they’re story is all about. To know them is more important than knowing the next steps in the legal process and all the issues. You have to know the story and that’s more important than anything,” he says.

Contact
Andy Van Le, Esq.
Law Offices of Andy Van Le & Associates, PC
1551 4th Avenue, Suite 102
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 525-0001
www.accidentlawctr.com

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