Back in the day, most dads had a family lawyer who knew the kids and regularly checked in to head off legal problems or fix them. Just imagine if you’d have had a family lawyer to talk to before you signed that sketchy mortgage, or settled hastily with that insurance company after someone rear-ended you.
Let’s face it, knowing there’s a lawyer on your side and in your corner gives you an edge. But finding a lawyer who really cares about you and who’s highly skilled…that’s a humongous challenge.
You’d be surprised how many people claim to be lawyers, even doing court trials, but they never finished law school or passed a bar exam. The bar exam and the state bar…those aren’t for bartenders. They’re there to certify a person is legally licensed to practice law.
Just visit www.statebarassociations.org, plug in your state, and contact the bar association. If you already have a specific attorney in mind, ask the association if there’s any way to determine the competency and license status of the lawyer you’re interested in. Also find out if there’s been any disciplinary action or complaints associated with the lawyer.
If you don’t have a particular attorney in mind, ask the bar association for a list of attorneys in your area who practice the kind of law (divorce, criminal defense, lawsuits, business, etc.) that you need.
You see I’m talking about being pro-active. This means finding a great attorney BEFORE you have legal problems. To find a superb lawyer, you have to call many lawyer’s offices, pay attention to whether the secretary treats you like shit or not, find out if the lawyer charges for you to sit down and explain why he should be your attorney (if there’s a charge for the first meeting you can be sure that’s a greedy lawyer who cares more about money than he cares about his clients).
It’s like you’re interviewing someone for a job. The lawyer is your employee, and you want to make sure it’s an employee who has the job skills, loyalty and tenacity to win for you.
Of course, if you just got pulled over and smacked with a DUI charge and they’re trying to keep you in jail over the weekend, you might have to hire in a hurry. That’s why it’s useful to have an attorney on retainer. You do this by pre-paying a relatively small up-front amount- the retainer. In most cases, it’s refundable if you never call on the lawyer to do anything.
A retainer holds the attorney in reserve so you can call the attorney day or night. The attorney and you have already gotten to know each other, prepped for any potential legal problems and built a relationship. This speeds communication and strategizing, which means you’ll get better legal representation during the crucial early phases of any legal difficulty.
When you’re sitting in a jail cell at 3 am on a Sunday morning, it’s great not to have to find a lawyer from the pee-stained yellow pages in the cell. You just dial the lawyer who already knows you!
But what do you interview an attorney about?
Attorney Personality, Skills and Dedication…that’s what you interview them about. Part of it is just seeing if you can work with the person. To be honest, most attorneys have a well-deserved reputation of being arrogant, uncaring, dishonest, greedy. You interview a variety of attorneys to see which one gives you the best vibe, the most sincerity, and a feeling of confidence and reassurance. You need an attorney who will listen to you, explain things to you, and above all…is dedicated to winning.
Whether it’s a traffic ticket, a business argument, criminal defense, or your neighbor suing you because your fence is allegedly on his property, you want a lawyer whose primary goal in life is to win win win for his clients.
Ask the attorney point blank (before you pay a penny) what are the legal issues in my case, what tactics would you use, what percentage chance do I have of winning, what will influence the outcome in my case.
Get a feel for how hard the lawyer is going to work for you, and how creative. It’s best to have a lawyer who will push hard to win, knowing that your freedom, reputation or money hangs in the balance.
And as with doctors, auto mechanics and other high-ticket situations, it’s always good to get a second opinion. Ask two attorneys about the same legal problem, and you’re likely to see that their strategies and recommendations differ significantly.
If your potential legal problem is serious enough to potentially cost you a lot of money, or your freedom, you need to talk to past clients of a potential attorney and find out if the lawyer was good. Word of mouth is one of the best ways of knowing what the real deal is with a lawyer or attorney.
Sometimes it’s not practical to talk to past clients. In that case, ask the attorney to provide you professional references (from other attorneys, or even from prosecutors), or at least to tell you their win-loss record in cases that are very similar to yours.
Be very clear about that- you want a lawyer who has a universe of experience or expertise in the type of law that you’re needing help with. It’s no good to have a tax attorney handle a personal injury claim.
Let’s face it, experience counts. Anybody with a law license is supposed to know the law, but success in your case might depend more on how long the attorney has been practicing in your locale, how much schmoozing they’ve done with prosecutors, and how many years they’ve spent perfecting their courtroom tactics and demeanor.
Some lawyers are con artists. It goes with the territory. They know the law, and you don’t. You might go to them when you’re already in trouble, which means they might try to exploit your fear and desperation. It’s easy to get ripped off by an attorney, sad to say.
As with doctors, dentists and other professionals, most of us are taught to revere lawyers, not to question them, not to tell them what to do. They’re the experts, right? Wrong. You’re the expert on what your problems are and what you want done so…
Remember: your lawyer is your employee. You’re paying the bills. You call the shots. Obviously you want your attorney to tell you the ins and outs of your situation, but the final decisions rest with you.
If the lawyer doesn’t listen to you or explain what you want explained, or worse yet if the lawyer goes to court and does things you don’t want done, you have the right to fire the lawyer.
In some cases if you feel that your ex-lawyer did you wrong, you can file a complaint with the bar association, or even find another lawyer to initiate an attorney malpractice case.
And here’s something I cannot overemphasize: get everything in writing up front. Many lawyers promise to “charge nothing unless we win,” but hidden in the small print there’s a clause that says “office fees will be paid by the client.”
Office fees? Oh yeah, like $2 per page for copying, $300 an hour for a phone call you made to the lawyer because the lawyer never got back to you in a timely manner…the best word for it is EXORBITANT.
Before you agree to have a lawyer or attorney represent you, carefully scrutinize their written statement about what they are going to do for you, what channels of communication will be open, how many court appearances, copying fees, filing fees, other hidden costs, will the lawyer represent you on appeal, does the lawyer offer a warranty or any form of guarantee?
Yeah I know…it’s not fun to think about lawyers. It’s like thinking of whether you’ll be cremated or buried. Usually when you need a lawyer, it’s because something unpleasant is happening.
I urge you to read this little book called “Ten Secrets You Must Know Before Hiring A Lawyer” by Joan Farr.
And also consider this accurate joke about lawyers:
Satan visited a lawyer’s office and made him an offer.
“I’ll increase your income 5000%,” Satan said. “Your law partners will love you; your clients will respect you; you’ll have four months of vacation each year and live to be a hundred. Your hot secretary will offer you the best sex you ever had, and she won’t tell anyone about your affair ever. All I require in return is that your wife’s soul, your children’s souls, and their children’s souls will rot and burn in hell for eternity.”
The lawyer thought for a moment, and then smiled at Satan.
“What’s the catch?” he asked.
Seriously though, life is hard, but when you find a great lawyer and put him or her on retainer, you can breathe a little easier. Lawyers specialize, so whether it’s criminal defense, personal injury, marriage & family law, business law, or other legal practice areas, it’s smart for you to do the homework and legwork now to find a qualified attorney who respects you and will fight for you-- before you need one.
© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2010
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Friday, 17 December 2010