Choosing a lawyer can be difficult. Each lawyer has different and unique experience, perspective, and approach. There are multitudes of ways to handle cases, and each lawyer will have differing opinions and approaches to individual cases. Lawyers, like doctors, have different “bedside manners.” Some lawyers are calculating, decisive, and goal oriented. Others focus on gut instincts, environment, and hand-holding. And many blend approaches to fit the case. When looking for a lawyer, there are some key elements to keep in mind.
First, does the lawyer listen and understand your goals? Lawyers have to take facts and situations as presented and quickly determine how the law will impact the goals the prospective client has. If the lawyer does not seem to be listening, or seems to be pre-judging your case, you may need to seek other counsel. Additionally, if the lawyer does not seem to be communicating effectively with you, or seems to be saying things like “Oh, yes, definitely – we can definitely accomplish that – no problem,” then you may need to seek other counsel. There are very few “definites” in the practice of law. I can also tell you, having tried many cases to jury verdict, that juries are unpredictable and no case that goes to a jury has a certain or definite outcome. The uncertainty of juries ensures that no party can go to trial confident in a victory. So, be wary of any lawyer that promises a particular outcome to you. Lawyers can work to accomplish your goals and posture the case such that achievement of your goals is likely, but no one can promise an outcome from any trial or arbitration.
Next, the fee. Lawyers fees vary as much as the clouds in the sky. Don’t hesitate to ask the lawyer what the fee will be. My firm charges an initial consult fee. This fee pays for the lawyer’s time in meeting with the client, briefly reviewing materials the client may bring, and discussing the client’s goals and options. It also assures the client that an attorney-client relationship has been established for the meeting. Even if the client chooses not to retain the lawyer, everything discussed in the meeting is confidential and privileged. Some lawyers don’t charge for an initial consult, some do. If a retainer is required, the amount of the retainer also varies from lawyer to lawyer. I typically wait to discuss and set the amount of any retainer until the end of the initial meeting. Typically, the amount of the retainer is determined by the nature of the case, the work anticipated to be done, the complexity and size of the case, and other factors. Don’t be afraid to ask a lawyer how the amount of the retainer is arrived at.
Also, ask a lawyer if he/she accepts credit cards, allows monthly payment plans, or has some alternative billing practices. Some lawyers, in certain types of cases, may accept the case on a contingent fee – which means the lawyer’s fee is a percentage of the recovery in the case. And, in some cases, the lawyer may accept a modified fee – such as a lower contingency percentage fee with a small retainer and reduced hourly fee. Many lawyers are willing to negotiate the fee, or work to come up with a fee structure that makes the case affordable to the client. Discuss this with any lawyer you meet with.
Lastly, trust your instincts about the lawyer. The attorney-client relationship is very intimate. You have to trust your lawyer. You will tell your lawyer aspects of your life that are private and often difficult to say. Trusting a lawyer with your story, your information, and significant aspects of your life is a very difficult thing to do. You have to trust your secrets will be kept, and you have to feel safe to discuss these very sensitive matters with him/her. If you are not comfortable, you feel you are not being listened to, you feel your case is being pre-judged, or you feel the lawyer is just not connecting with you, then that may not be the lawyer for you. Lawyers should not be afraid to try your case and advocate for you. While the reality is that most cases settle, there is never any assurance or promise any particular case will settle. If the lawyer is not prepared to take your case to trial, arbitration, or final hearing, that may not be the lawyer for you. I do not take any case I’m not willing and able to try, whether to a jury, a judge, an arbitration panel or arbiter, or other forum. To be an effective advocate, the lawyer must know every aspect and detail of your case. He/she must listen to you, and you must trust your lawyer with all facts and issues of your case. If you are not comfortable or your instincts tell you this lawyer is not for you, you may need to seek other counsel.
No two lawyers are alike. If you do not connect with a lawyer, you do not seem able to trust a lawyer, or you feel uncomfortable or pre-judged, then you may need to seek other lawyers’ opinions/assessments of your case. Each lawyer will have different perspectives, experience, and opinions of your case. Do not be afraid to consult with more than one lawyer in seeking the advocate you want sitting next to you at counsel table. A lawyer must tell the trier about you and your business and persuade the trier to find in your favor. Ensure you have the right person standing to tell your story and working to attain your goals. It’s your business, make it your lawyer.
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Patric McCallum is a principal attorney with Drew & McCallum. He focuses his practice on family and business law, helping business leaders and Texas families with their legal challenges and needs. He brings a wealth of trial experience and industry knowledge to every matter he handles.