When you need to hire an attorney, it usually means that something has gone wrong. Unless you're incorporating your dream business, the reason probably isn't good. It could be that you've been accused of a criminal or civil charge, are accusing someone else, or are trying to protect a valuable investment. Whatever the case, hiring an attorney is a necessity for making the best of the situation you're in.
A good lawyer with high ethical standards and plenty of relevant experience can increase your odds of getting the results you want. As you might guess, not all lawyers are good. Some of them are dishonest, substance abusers, or just plain jerks who are not a good fit for your and your needs.
The following are some common things attorneys do and don't do that make their clients hate them:
1. Pushed me into bankruptcy when it wasn't the best thing for me
While bankruptcy can be the best solution for some financial problems, there are bankruptcy lawyers out there who push their clients into bankruptcy for a variety of financial woes, such as being served with foreclosure, because that's what they know. Bankruptcy is not a catch-all for any financial problem. Avoid this by going to an attorney who focuses their practice in the area of law you need assistance with. If you're being foreclosed on, go to a lawyer who understands all the options you have to deal with that. You may be eligible for a loan modification that permanently lowers your payment to an affordable portion of your income and makes declaring bankruptcy unnecessary.
2. Didn't return my calls
It's easy to make promises. Following through on them is something else. Some clients are promised the world by their attorney, but after being paid their retainer fee they can't be reached.
3. Charged me an arm and a leg
Some attorneys charge by the hour for services that should be flat, or hourly fees for services that can be contingent, which can lead to accumulating enormous fees. It's a good idea to do a little research to make sure your attorney isn't charging vastly more than their competitors and has a fair fee structure. A good lawyer can be retained for a reasonable expense and is well worth the expense.
4. Doesn't know what he's doing
Not all lawyers have the same training and knowledge. You might find that there are many different lawyers willing to take your money, but that doesn't mean you should give it to them. If you're accused of a crime, you need a criminal defense lawyer. If you've been injured, you need a personal injury lawyer. It's best to go with someone who speaks the language and knows the ins, outs, and what have yous of your legal matter.
5. He was high and drunk
Many attorneys are under a tremendous amount of stress to bring in enough billable hours to their firm and provide the best service to their clients. Some of them turn to substances to deal with their issues. As many as 1 in 5 attorneys may be an alcoholic or a drug addict. And suicide rates are among the highest of any profession. When attorneys have a substance abuse problem they don't make the best decisions, and that can have awful consequences for their clients. There are many examples of attorneys showing up to court under the influence. One attorney admitted to being so drunk in court that he suffered blackouts while defending his client in a criminal trial. If your attorney fails you because of a substance abuse problem you'll have to live with the result, unless you're sentenced to death. Then you have to die with it.
How do you avoid getting a bad attorney?
Check the state Bar Association's website to see if they've been disciplined for ethical violations. Everybody makes mistakes, but if your prospective attorney has a pattern of making major errors in judgment, cheating, or abusing drugs or alcohol, you may want to find someone who has a better record.
See what their ratings are on martindale.com and lawyers.com. While any business is going to have a few unsatisfied customers, the average rating should give you an idea of what clients think of them.
Ask to see results of past cases. A reputable and experienced attorney should be able to show you cases where they've achieved the results you want for past clients. The more they can show you, the better. If they can't prove their record, think about if you really want to be a test case for some inexperienced attorney. You're not looking to give charity, are you?
It can cost a lot of money to hire an attorney, and failing to achieve what you want has serious consequences. You could lose a lawsuit, your freedom, or your home. Take a little time to research anyone you're considering hiring before you make a commitment. The Internet has made it easier than ever to look at a lawyer's record, so take advantage of that so you don't waste your time and money on a bad attorney.
Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net