What Should You Look for When Hiring a Lawyer?
Most people assume that the most important quality to look for when hiring a lawyer is how aggressive they are. While it is certainly important to choose an attorney who believes in your case and will fight for you, conviction should not be confused with aggression. In fact, lawyers who are overly aggressive can, depending on the circumstances and the judge, actually hurt your case. Here is a list of five things any client hiring a lawyer should consider before retaining an attorney:
- Is the lawyer being honest with me about my case?
Most people assume that lawyers are dishonest and only out to make money so they don’t bother to consider whether their attorney is telling them the truth about their case. This is a huge mistake. Why? Because whether you are paying directly or on a contingency, filing a lawsuit involves time, money, and energy, and not all cases are worth the investment. A lawyer who tells you that your case is a sure winner without discussing with you risks and potential defenses is no different than a used car salesman. Likewise, a good lawyer should clearly and openly discuss with you what his fees are and how he charges before you sign his representation agreement. The only thing worse than being in a lawsuit is finding out months after you have spent money on an attorney that you would have been better off never filing suit in the first place.
- Is the lawyer a good negotiator?
Since law is by nature adversarial, people assume it is a zero sum game—that is, one person wins, and one person loses. What most non-lawyers don’t realize, however, is that only 5 percent of all civil cases go to trial, meaning that remaining 95 percent are settled. Since settlement, by definition, involves compromise, the reality is that most people who hire an attorney don’t get 100 percent of what they want. The key, therefore, is to hire a lawyer who is prepared to go the distance and can win at trial, but also someone who is able to using common sense, skill, and emotional intelligence to get you the best settlement possible. Frequently you can tell whether a lawyer is a good negotiator by how he negotiates with you. A lawyer who comes across as overly aggressive or self-important when you meet him probably does not have your best interest at heart. Likewise, a lawyer who gives in to everything just to get you to hire him is also not a wise choice.
- Does the lawyer have common sense?
Among all of the considerations, this is perhaps the most frequently overlooked. When you go to an attorney you are looking for advice, but you are also looking for someone who can solve your problem. Sometimes that solution may involve telling you things you don’t like to hear, like you should cut your losses. Other times it may involve getting you to let go of the notion that there is no way you can lose. The best lawyers are not simply those who can identify issues, but can help you come up with practical ways to resolve them.
- Is the lawyer a good communicator?
Although people often think of this question in terms of whether the lawyer will be effective in court (i.e, how would the lawyer look in front of a jury), they rarely stop to consider when they are meeting with a lawyer whether he is communicating well with them. A good lawyer should be able to explain a complex problem or legal principle to you in terms you can understand. He also should be open to answering your questions, and if he doesn’t know or has to research the answer, being honest enough with you to tell you so. (see point number 1).
- Does the lawyer have emotional intelligence?
Many people confuse emotional intelligence with “likability” (i.e., is this someone I would want to have a beer with). But emotional intelligence is not about whether the person is nice—which is not unimportant—but whether they are able to read people and situations well. Why is this so important? Because regardless of the legal issue or problem, every case involves people, and people are complex. Figuring out what motivates someone being able to figure out why they do what they do is a critical skill not only in winning trials, but in getting people to identify and solve their problems. It also is important because the law is more than simply knowing how to read and interpret a set of rules. If that were the case, there would be no need for lawyers, judges, or juries. At the end of the day, while computers may be able to predict outcomes and assess risk, they cannot read people or know in individual cases what is best for them.