Last week I told all of the non-lawyer punks that are now reading the blog about how to contact a lawyer. Of course, being muggles and potential clients, and therefore incapable of wiping their own asses with an instruction manual, the immediate response to the post was “But…But Boozy, how do we decide what lawyer to hire once we’ve found one! I mean, plenty of lawyers are scumbags who just want our money!”
You hear that sound? That’s the sound of a million good lawyers out there sighing and throwing themselves backwards in their chairs all at once because you “heard from a guy about this one lawyer that was a real son of a bitch” and “didn’t care about the case.” Look, some lawyers suck, that’s just the nature of things. Some birds don’t fly, some dogs bite, and some lawyers have no business with a bar license, but that shit happens. Most of the time, though, the reason your fuckstick friend is so unhappy with their lawyer has absolutely nothing to do with the lawyer themselves, and a lot to do with what they think happened.
So how can lawyers fucking combat this plague of people that assume we’re all money-grubbing whores out for every penny in their pocket? Well, first, don’t hire me. Because I’m likely to be a money-grubbing whore out for every last penny in your pocket. Outside of that? Well, maybe I should take a fucking moment and tell people how they can act during a consult and assess a lawyer. I mean, I told lawyers how to assess a case and a client a while back, maybe it’s time for a companion piece on what to do once one of the mouthbreathing morons that make up the mass of humanity stumbles, through sheer happenstance and coincidence, into a law office instead of their friend’s living room. You know, that friend who “totally was a criminal justice major in college and can give you free legal advice.”
So, lawyers, turn back. This one’s for the potential clients. Or, you know, don’t turn back, because you motherfuckers know how I feel about clients and you may get a little bit of enjoyment from this shit.
So, you’ve found a lawyer, you’ve made an appointment, how should you determine whether this lawyer is the one you want to hire? What do you do during the initial consultation, and how should you act so you don’t come off as the utter shitstain that you likely are?
Remember We’re Interviewing You, Too.
A client consult is a two way street, assholes. We’re ostensibly having you in so we can assess the case and your legal claims, but at the same time we’re assessing you personally to decide if we want to handle your bullshit for the next several months to several years. The attorney-client relationship is one built on communication and trust, and it’s hard to have that relationship if every time I get handed a phone message from you I have to spend twenty minutes and three cigarettes steeling myself to call you back. No, I don’t want to hear about every fucking thing that’s happened in your life, yes, I have other shit to do, why did you call?
Just like you can refuse to hire us, we can fucking refuse to be hired no matter how meritorious your case is if we think you’re going to be a goddamn nightmare. So behave accordingly. I don’t give a shit what Google told you, I don’t care what you buddy Carl (the Criminal Justice major) said, and I really don’t care what “this one guy you know” experienced. Their facts have no fucking bearing on your case, and don’t start arguing with me during the fucking consult. Pay promptly on demand for the consult, even if I tell you to pay the consult fee right after you walk in the door, because I want to see that you understand my time is worth fucking money and me getting paid does not depend on me telling you what you want to hear. Dress decently, and don’t ask me to meet you after office hours unless I offer to do so.
Don’t fucking reschedule your goddamn appointment if you can avoid it. If we come to an agreement, you’re going to want me to treat your legal matter like it’s the most fucking important thing in the universe. Act like it on your end, too. If it’s not important enough for you to leave work thirty minutes early to make it to my office, it isn’t important enough for me to take on.
Do bring all the relevant shit with you to the meeting.
Do answer my questions without getting mad.
Do have an idea of what your goal from hiring me will be.
In general, present yourself as a reasonable and competent adult, and your chances of me agreeing to represent you go up right off the fucking bat.
Don’t Just Walk In.
Shopping for a lawyer is not like buying a fucking computer. You do not just walk in and wait for a lawyer to be free to meet with you. My desk is full, my court calendar is overflowing, my car looks like a fucking Starbucks and a tobacco warehouse combined and exploded in it, and I don’t remember the last time I slept through the goddamn night without hearing my phone buzz. Lawyers are fucking busy, people. A decent lawyer, one that can give your case the skill it needs, is likely too damn busy to drop everything and meet with a walk-in client. Call ahead, even if it’s just that morning, and see if the lawyer can meet you that day or soon after. Then make an appointment and fucking keep it.
Don’t Trust The Lawyer Who Promises You Shit.
I have a standard line that I use with clients. It goes like this:
I think you have a strong case, and I think you could win it. But I can’t guarantee anything. No lawyer can guarantee you anything. If a lawyer tells you that it’s a guaranteed win, he’s either a liar or a bad lawyer.
The fact is, shit happens in litigation. The fact that you think is minor and forget to mention can change the whole course of the case. The law can change in the middle of your matter. The whole fucking thing can blow up based just on a judge or jury selection. Shit happens, the law in unpredictable as fuck, and we’re not magicians. You want a magician, go to Vegas. You want us to be up front? Come to a lawyer.
On the other side of this equation:
Don’t Press Us For Definites.
Bad lawyers promise you shit. Good lawyers promise you nothing and speak in terms of possibilities. There’s a joke that the most legal answer you can give someone is “it depends,” and that’s not even a fucking joke. A lawyer worth their shit is always going to qualify their answer with the words “it depends” because nothing is certain in law. “Do I have a case?” “Probably not, but it depends.” That sort of shit.
We’re not stupid because we “can’t answer.” We just know that the second we give you anything that even sounds like a fucking guarantee you’re going to wave it in our faces when your whole fucking case goes belly-up because you neglected to mention that your entire defense is “I didn’t get caught smoking meth in a Celica…it was an Accord.” If you think the lawyer is being evasive and not answering your fucking question simply because you want to hear “Oh yeah, you’ll definitely win this case,” you’re the fucking problem, not them.
Don’t Negotiate Price.
I’m not going to lower my fee for you, and neither will anyone but the most hungry fucking lawyers out there. We are trained goddamn professionals, we set our rates to a market standard, and our rate is normally commensurate with our experience and skill in the are we’re talking about. If you ask me to lower my rate, which is absurdly low for my market, I’m going to show you the fucking door really goddamn quickly. The way this shit works is “I set the price, you determine whether you want to pay the price.”
On a sidenote, your fucking retainer is not how much I’m going to cost. A retainer is an amount of funds we hold in trust for you and apply against our billings. That $3,000 retainer is not your final bill, it’s security for the work I’m going to do on your behalf and the costs that are going to be incurred in representing you. You’re going to get monthly invoices and requests to fill the retainer back up.
However, this may not be your fault, because a lawyer should clearly fucking discuss their fees with you during the meeting, preferably following it up with a letter repeating all of the information. If the lawyer doesn’t, fucking ask them. If they say “Oh, I’ll put all of that in a letter later,” leave. Just fucking leave.
I’m gonna be honest, I could go on about this shit all fucking day. I mean, I have a lot of fucking issues with clients. This could be an entire series entitled “Don’t Be A Dumbass” and I’ll never run out of material for it, but I think 5 tips is a good fucking starting point.
I’ll come back next week with “Don’t Be A Dumbass” part 2, that one directed to lawyers.