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Choosing A Lawyer
Choosing A Lawyer Hot Topics Articles

 

Choosing A Lawyer
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Choosing a lawyer is not as straightforward as it may seem. Where litigation is concerned, a client who is a veteran of past litigation will likely employ different criteria in choosing an attorney than a litigation novice. Every client seeks a lawyer who is 100% on his or her side. However, it is important to remember that there is an inherent conflict of interest between a professional supplying a service and the client who is paying for that service. The more work the lawyer does, the more the client pays.

A good lawyer is not only well educated, bright and tenacious. A good lawyer considers the client's best interests first, especially where the client's interests conflict with the lawyer's own interests.  Some large firm  partners may be under pressure to meet a commitment to bring in a set dollar amount of fees for the year.  The temptation to see a new client file in terms of how much of that commitment the case will represent, conflicts with the client's desire to resolve the problem with the least possible expense.   Small firm attorneys have economic pressures as well.  A good lawyer gives the client the best advice, regardless of whether it increases or decreases law firm profit.

Many lawyers take on the role of cheerleader when being interviewed by a new client. It's easy to curry favor with the client with exclamations of how unfairly the client has been treated, coupled with suggestions of the wonderful results the lawyer expects in the case. Many clients who are veterans of litigation were told what a great case they had, only to be urged to settle when they had spent all they could afford to spend on the case, at a figure they may have been able to settle for at the onset.

Litigation is expensive.  The days when most people lived in small towns, and juries were made up of their neighbors, are long gone.  Unlike the times when jurors knew the whether the word of the Plaintiff or the Defendant was priceless, or worthless, today most Judges and jurors know little about the individuals and organizations they judge.  They know even less about the facts which gave rise to the  case.  To demonstrate the truth of the matter, in most cases, the lawyers need to obtain, review and present large volumes of documents.  Many witnesses may need to be interviewed by the attorneys or their investigators, and examined in depositions.   Pretrial proceedings to compel production of evidence, or to decide legal issues, also drive up litigation costs.

One Federal District Court Judge in Southern California requires the parties to attend an initial conference, even if they have to travel cross-country to be there in person. At this conference, he takes over an hour to explain how in most cases, the clients will spend many thousands of dollars, only to end up settling the case on terms half as favorable as what they expected. While he doesn't say that there is no such thing as right and wrong, he does say that regardless of their feelings about right and wrong, the parties should compromise their positions at the very beginning, before much money has been spent.  He states that the parties are likely to end up miles ahead financially if they compromise instead of litigating.  While I thought the Judge overstated the case (and my client went to trial and won), it is important for the attorney to go over the harsh realities of litigation with the client at the onset.

A good lawyer won't hesitate to point out the weaknesses in the client's case. At times, that may mean pointing out that the client's problem is partly the client's own fault. A good lawyer should explain the risks in the case, and the applicable law, in language the client can understand. While some legal concepts are difficult to understand, the risks of litigation can always be translated into plain language. The lawyer risks losing the client by pointing out negative facts and legal principles, which will make the client's case more difficult. A good lawyer will take that risk, and give the client an honest evaluation. Clients who have been through litigation before want to know the good news and the bad news about their case, right from the beginning.

The moral of the story is that the attorney who makes you feel good about yourself and your case, without going over the downside, is doing you a disservice. A good lawyer is honest with you at all times, even at the risk of losing you as a client.

 

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