Saturday, November 20, 2010


Believe it or not, when a prospective client comes to me for potential representation, there's a mutual interview process that goes on.  While they're sizing me up, I'm doing the same to them.  Every now and them, warning bells go off in my head and I end up sending the person on down the road.  Here's some of them.

1.  I filed my own case and now need help.  This is a big no-no for me.  Chances are very high that some critical step has been missed, some deadline has passed, or they have otherwise sabotaged their own case.  Think about it.  If everything had gone well, they would not be sitting in my office asking for help.  In order for me to get involved, I have to look over what they have done, identify every error, fix those errors (if even possible), and charge them a higher fee than they would have paid in the first place.  On top of that, once I sign on, no matter what they have already done, it will be my fault when things don't work out as they intended.  None of that sounds like fun.  Sorry.

2.  I paid for these documents online and just need you to help me file them.  Nope.  If my signature is going on those documents, I'm drafting them.  I'm not being an elitist.  The document I will prepare will comply with the local laws and court rules, and cover all the bases.  When people push generic documents in front of me, I have no earthly idea what is in them, and I'm certainly not going to take the time (time for which I would have to charge) to review them when what I have works perfectly well.

3.  I already know the strategy for the case, I just need someone to carry it out.  If they've already determined the strategy, they don't need me.  People may not understand that life does not equal legal drama on TV, or some disjointed article on a blog (including this one!).  I need to review every case thoroughly before I come up with a strategy.  I may come to a different conclusion, that may, in effect, be better for the client.  I'm not interested in helping someone who will fight the advice I give them.  Note this, though:  I enjoy working with informed clients.  If someone tells me they researched the topic before coming to me, in most instances, they are a better client for it.  This, as long as they understand that not everything online applies to every situation.

4.  I want to fight back on principle--it's not about the money.  Let me be blunt here.  At the end of the month, I have to pay expenses with money, not principle.  So, there has to be some money involved.  I already worked for a non-profit before.  I'm not trying to turn my firm into one.  More importantly, though, when people fight on principle, there is no satisfaction unless we end up with a perfect result.  But sometimes, as Calvin tells Hobbes, "A good compromise leaves everyone mad."  I'm not that crazy about picking up a case where the client already tells me how it needs to end up.  If the client has already figured it out, there's no place for me to go, but down.

5.  I just need someone who will bend the rules for me.  Please leave.  Right now.  I'm not even playing with this one.

6.  None of my previous attorneys have been able to finish this case for me.  Really?  Look, I hate to burst a bubble, but I'm not the world's best attorney.  If several attorneys have bailed out, what would make someone think I can do it?  There's actually a very distinct possibility that the client could be the problem.  Or, it could be an extraordinarily difficult case.  I don't know, and I don't want to find out.

7.  I just need someone to stick it to the other side.  I have to zealously represent my client.  I will not, however, be a boor.  This system works best when the attorneys can communicate without hyperbole or attacks.  In fact, in the few cases where I have dealt with obstinate overbearing attorneys, their clients have always come out worse for it.

8.  Can you beat this other attorney's fee?  No.  We set our fee based upon what it will take to put sufficient time into a case without feeling like we have to cut corners to keep from going broke.  We believe our fees are fair.  Others are free to disagree.

Those are just a few.  I'm sure there are others I've missed.

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