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Model Change: Wagonheim Law Stops Counting the Minutes

Eliot Wagonheim, Wagonheim and associates - Arianne Teeple
Eliot Wagonheim, Wagonheim and associates - Arianne Teeple

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On the wall in the kitchen at Wagonheim Law, a poster reads, "Tradition. Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid," over an image of the running of the bulls. It's not the typical artwork you'd expect to see on the walls of a law firm, but managing partner Eliot Wagonheim would argue that he's also not your typical lawyer.

Wagonheim was in his second year of law school in 1986 when he started a legal temporary service for law firms to hire lawyers as temps. "The Daily Record ran an article on the front page where they had polled the top 20 managing partners at the top law firms at that time," recalls Wagonheim. "All of them disagreed with the concept but of course they all now use them."

Wagonheim is once again thinking ahead of the curve with a new program he calls Empty Hourglass. "The Daily Record article highlighted a quote that said I had denigrated the legal profession and reduced it to a business, but if I'd had two minutes for rebuttal I would have said it's always been a business. The metrics of responsiveness, client satisfaction, profit, and loss all apply to law just as they do to the landscaping profession," he says.

With Empty Hourglass, Wagonheim says his clients will no longer have to worry about being nickled and dimed under a traditional billable hours model. "I've been a practicing lawyer for 23 years and I've heard every lawyer joke you can possibly imagine, even jokes from really good clients who would never leave like, 'I don't want to talk to you about the Ravens game because I know the meter is running.' Inside most jokes is a kernel of truth," he says. "What that joke tells you is that clients will think twice about picking up the phone and calling because they are worried about the meter running." And with the state of the economy over the last few years and many businesses watching their expenses more closely, they may be even less likely to call on their attorney.

In the Empty Hourglass program, clients get unlimited phone calls, unlimited emails and correspondence, unlimited demand letters, and monthly contract review and analysis for a monthly fee of $350 to $550 per month. "There are law firms in town that charge $550 per hour for one of their attorneys. It's meant to be a low cost program that includes all of the things that will facilitate communication and help me build relationships with my clients," says Wagonheim. "I'm then included as part of the management team whose input and advice can be sought freely." He says he had an immediate response from his clients when the program was announced earlier this month.

One of the first to sign up was John Borz, president of Milton Electric in east Baltimore. "I was probably one of the people who brought it to his attention because I was basically afraid to call him and ask questions," he says. "But this could prevent you three to four months down the road from making a big mistake that will cost three to four times more. It's similar to preventative medicine. It's called peace of mind."

Though Borz says he hasn't called Wagonheim once since he joined the Empty Hourglass Program, he doesn't doubt that he'll get his money's worth out of the program. "If Eliot is not available, one of his associates can take my questions and confer with the other associates at no extra cost. You're really getting the whole firm, the whole package."

For Tobias Musser, CEO of MNS Group, a managed service provider based in Bel Air, the model is something he's no stranger to. "We provide computer services for a flat rate plus additional fees for services outside of the scope. They're essentially copying from the managed service provider world. It makes sense because it includes a lot of important things that businesses sometimes neglect in order to avoid incurring charges." Musser says a mailer he received from Wagonheim about the program included an hourglass in it and caught his attention. "It was quite unique," he says, and he subsequently signed his firm up for the program.

"There are many things I would have been curious about that I would have gone to Google or Bing to look into but now I can call and get a bona fide legal opinion that applies to my specific situation."

"Advice from an attorney is often like flowers at a funeral it comes too late," says Wagonheim. "Many clients wait to pick up the phone until there is a crisis. I was missing the phone calls upon which relationships are built. Now I can help my clients before these issues arise."

A graduate of both Towson University and University of Baltimore, Nicole Jovel lived in the Baltimore area for nine years. She writes for both corporate clients and local and regional publications.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple

- Founder and managing member Eliot Wagonheim, Wagonheim Law

- West's annotated code of Maryland

- Founder and managing member Eliot Wagonheim talks with Attorney Kimberly Neal

- The Wagonheim sign

- Attorney at Law Robert Porter works on his computer

- Founder and managing member Eliot Wagonheim
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