Eric Steiner of Steiner Law Group, LLC, handles consumer and commercial bankruptcy, asset protection, and commercial litigation cases. After graduating from the University of Michigan law school, Eric began practicing in Baltimore, where he found a valuable way to help clients out of difficult financial situations. When he’s not helping clients, Eric enjoys skiing, traveling, and spending time with his family and friends.
Tell us about how you ended up handling the types of cases you do.
Prior to starting my firm in 2014, I worked for two mid-size law firms in the areas of complex civil litigation and commercial litigation. I discovered that while these firms had relationships with their clients, it was apparent that they did not offer opportunities for younger attorneys such as myself to develop my own client and referral relationships. My clients were banks and insurance companies, and the most client interaction I would have would be talking to a loan officer or insurance adjuster. This kind of law practice, while it provided me with valuable experience, did not fulfill me.
I also learned early on in my career that many law firms view associates as expendable, and I decided that I no longer wished to bill hours for a firm that did not value me the way I valued them. In fact, my experience with these firms caused me to deeply reflect on what kind of lawyer I wished to be, and I came to the realization that the lawyer I wished to be was not aligned with the values of these firms, which placed a high value on billing and a low value on client relationships and satisfaction. Before starting my firm, I also had the opportunity to work for a bankruptcy trustee who did not operate her firm in the manner that these other law firms did, and that experience dramatically helped shape my practice of law.
When I formed my firm, I handled most cases that came in the door. I soon found that I enjoyed helping individuals and business owners who are burdened by debt, and I decided to focus on helping these clients through bankruptcy, asset protection, and commercial litigation.
What constitutes success in your mind regarding a case outcome?
“I view a successful outcome as exceeding my clients’ expectations.”
Particularly in bankruptcy, I am often able to predict the outcome of a case based upon my experience with bankruptcy proceedings. In litigation cases, outcomes are more varied, and I strive to communicate effectively to my clients so that expectations are clear, and surprises are minimized as much as possible.
When you are deciding about whether to take a case, what factors are you evaluating?
That are several factors I consider when deciding to take a case, and they are: 1) client communication skills; 2) client openness and honesty; and 3) likelihood of success of the case. If I determine that a client cannot effectively communicate with my office, the likelihood of the case proceeding smoothly is significantly jeopardized. If a client is open and honest with me, the attorney-client relationship is much easier, and case strategy is much more effective. Finally, I evaluate the merits of the case before taking a case. If the case has what I have determined to be a high likelihood of failure, I often suggest an alternative to the prospective client.
What are some things you look for when first meeting with a client?
The answer to this is the same as the answer to the previous question. I look for communication, openness, and honesty.
What would you say to a prospective client who believes they cannot afford an attorney?
For certain kinds of cases, we offer payment plans. If the prospective client is not amenable to a payment plan, I refer the prospective client to Legal Aid or other low or pro-bono resources. My experience has demonstrated that prospective clients who believe they cannot afford an attorney but may be able to do so often lack the three prerequisites listed above for an effective attorney-client relationship.
What sort of fulfillment do you get from being a lawyer?
Being a lawyer provides me with a unique opportunity to help my clients in difficult situations. As a lawyer, I assess the legal issues the client has and provide a solution. Much like a doctor performing surgery, there can be complications, but as a lawyer, I meet and address those complications as they arise. As an attorney who runs his own practice, I am able to make the legal process from the client’s perspective as easy as I possibly can through various cloud-based solutions such as document storage, texting solutions, easy-to-use client portal, and various other systems that ease the client’s burden.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a new practice?
“Be: 1) humble; 2) open to learning new things very quickly; and 3) able to work very hard.”
Starting a law practice is not easy and requires much more than knowledge of the law. I would advise any attorney starting their own practice to dig deep and ask themselves why they wish to start their own practice and what values are important to them. Once they answer that question, they should set defined goals, develop processes to meet those goals, and implement those processes. Owning and growing a law firm requires perseverance, patience, humility, and an excellent work ethic.
Where do you see your law firm 10 years from now?
I hope to have the privilege of working with several attorneys who are as passionate as I am about helping clients and offering a new level of client service not currently offered by other law firms. We hope to provide this level of service through advances in technology that allow for faster, more efficient client communication while providing excellent legal representation.
Many thanks to Eric for sharing his time with us. Besides running a busy law practice, Eric serves as a trustee of the Baltimore Bar Foundation. Eric’s particular passion is GEDCO (Govan Ecumenical Homes Development Corporation) Cares program, which started in 1984 as a means to address the need for affordable, supportive living facilities for elderly congregants with low incomes and offers a plethora of services including emergency food programs, financial assistance, career counseling, and permanent housing for homeless men and women. Its CARES program serves families and individuals in crisis by connecting people to resources that enable movement towards self-sufficiency. The resources include food and emergency financial assistance services. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the CARES Client-Choice-Food Pantry allowed people to choose the food that their household members prefer, while the Emergency Financial Assistance Center assisted individuals and families with pending evictions, utility shut-offs, and prescription needs.