You’re in a bind, and you’re confused. Legal-ese is a foreign language to you. You know you need a lawyer for this type of problem, but you’re not sure how to choose one and you’re really not sure how to talk to one. Maybe you’re not even sure if you can trust one. So what do you do? How do you find and pick an attorney and, even more important, what should you expect from your attorney-client relationship?
Although often referred to as “the most noble profession,” many people view lawyers in a negative light. In a recent Gallup poll, lawyers were rated as having very low to average professional/ethical standards. Lawyers in general have a 29% approval rating, and in a poll ranking public respect of professions, lawyers are near the bottom- with only 20% of respondents having a favorable view of lawyers.
These statistics are unfair to many members of the legal profession. As with any job, there are bad lawyers, good lawyers, and great lawyers- what matters is that you find yourself a trustworthy and capable attorney who fits your needs. When hiring a lawyer, there are several key traits you should look for to make sure your case is handled well. Of course, your attorney should have experience, be talented at negotiating, have strong analytical, research, and communication skills, and have good judgement and the ability to make reasonable assumptions.
But what makes a truly great attorney is not these resumé-buzzword skills. These are things that any lawyer should know- if a lawyer does not have these fundamental skills he would be hard-pressed to call himself an attorney at all. Surveys show large discrepancies between what lawyers think potential clients should know about them and what clients actually want to know. While attorneys think clients want to know where they went to law school or which judge they clerked for, clients want to know if they will return their calls, if they’re a jerk, and what their other clients think of them.
What really matters is an attorney’s character, and how they treat their clients. When hiring an attorney, you should expect respect, loyalty, accessibility, and exceptional people skills. You shouldn’t just be treated like a client, you should be treated like a person who has a personal problem. Your attorney should be confident in their abilities, but not arrogant. They should be creative, perseverant, and responsive to client needs. You should feel that their legal services have really been valuable to you- not just that your problem has been solved, but that it has been solved in the best way possible way and that you have truly gotten what you paid for.
A lawyer should personalize their relationship with the client, and make them feel like their feelings matter and their situation is significant and special. In this way, a lawyer is not only a master of the law but also a master of psychology. As a client, especially in small firm practice, you’re not just the facts of your case. You are personally affected by your situation- you may be stressed and anxious, unsure about the future and worried about what a legal outcome means for your everyday life. You’ll want to ask questions that don’t necessarily have a legal answer- like “Why is this happening?” or “What will happen to my family?”. Because of the personal nature of many legal issues, your lawyer should really listen to what you have to say. They should not just be responsive but proactively reach out to you, keeping you constantly updated on your case. They should make time not just for the facts, but for your feelings.
Choosing a lawyer may be a confusing and somewhat stressful endeavor, but if you do your research and ask the right questions of prospective attorneys, you will find the right lawyer for you. First and foremost, the goal of the legal profession is to help people who need help. A lawyer is not just a professional, a lawyer is a person, and it is important to assess not only their professional skills but also who they are as people. Integrity matters because despite what a contract says if you sign an agreement with someone that lacks character they will often be able to weasel around the terms. In conclusion, always check to see if the attorney you are working with has a good reputation because if they don’t then there is no need to consider working with them.
Mr. Reid is general practice attorney in Birmingham, Alabama. He has worked for Republican leadership in the United State House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and was a health policy advisor to the governor of Alabama. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 205-913-7406. A full description of his practice areas is available at www.reidlawalabama.com.
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