Everyone has heard a million lawyer jokes, but you have the right to expect more from your lawyer than a chance to wind up the punchline to a joke. Lawyers aren't better or worse than anyone else, though, and when you are seeking representation it is important to identify and seek the qualities that will ensure your interests are best served.
You should look for three qualities in an attorney:
- Honest Communication
The most valuable skill a lawyer can have is the ability to listen to what his or her clients are really saying. After listening to the client, a good lawyer should be able to respond to any question with a clear and direct response, even if the response is to say, "I don't know." If your lawyer won't give you a fair hearing and a reasonable answer, you shouldn't expect much in the way of results from him or her.
We live in a world of specialization. A lawyer who professes to be a jack of all trades is undoubtedly a master of none. You should select a lawyer who sticks to what he or she does best. Select one whose expertise matches your needs. Remember: If the lawyer has not handled your type of case before, your case becomes the lawyer's on-the-job training.
Does your lawyer respond to your e-mail or telephone inquiries in a reasonably prompt manner? Does your lawyer keep you current on the status of your claim and what comes next? Does your lawyer promise you the sun and moon when he or she signs up the case, only to spend the remainder of the case backpedaling? If so, you need a lawyer who is willing to be accountable for his or her actions.
In addition to these important considerations you should discuss the financial details of your arrangement early in the relationship. Different kinds of legal matters may have alternative payment options and the pricing structures of individual attorneys and law firms can vary greatly. If you have concerns about your ability to pay you should discuss them early in the case so that you and the attorney can come to any necessary agreements about legal fees at outset rather than in the midst of the case when attention is better directed to legal matters.
A consultation meeting, in addition to being an opportunity for the attorney to assess your legal position, is an opportunity to determine whether an attorney has the qualities you are seeking in a representative. In addition to asking about an attorney's qualifications you can verify these traits by researching the attorney through various attorney directory and referral systems, or by looking at the state bar association's list of disciplined attorneys. State bar associations frequently maintain records of client and court complaints about law firms and attorneys.
In an ideal world all attorneys would always be accountable, professional, and honest, but there is a kernel of truth in most humor and it is the unfortunate fact that there are some shady characters in the legal business. By prioritizing a high character in your choice of representation you can get your day in court without becoming the butt of the joke.