Chapter Eight: Are You a Chicken or a Pig?

In the previous chapters I have told you everything I know about finding the attorney that is right for you. But that was only half the battle. In this chapter, I want to share some advice on how to ensure that once you find the right attorney you are able to maintain a professional, positive and productive working relationship.

Avoid Committing Too Soon. That is my first and maybe best piece of advice. If at all possible try to interview at least two lawyers before making your final decision. Of course, if you have an emergency legal situation that requires immediate attention, this may not be practical or possible. But if time is not of the essence, then I encourage you to meet with more than one attorney. What’s the point in meeting with another lawyer if you already know the first lawyer you met with is right for you? You can’t really know that for sure unless you have another attorney to compare him or her to.

Twenty- five years ago when my husband and I were house hunting I felt deeply and blindly in love with the first house the realtor showed us. My husband was smart not to allow himself to be so easily impressed. (I have never admitted this to him). He rightfully insisted that we look at a few other homes before putting down a deposit on what I considered to be our dream home. After the realtor showed us a few houses, I quickly realized that the first house we looked at was completely wrong for us. The mistake I made was to compare the first house the realtor showed us to the small apartment we were living in at the time. The house looked great when compared to our apartment but it could not stack up against all the other houses that were on the market.

How will you know how the attorney you want to hire stacks up against other attorneys if you have no one to compare him or her to? On the day you hire an attorney you may not care about anything other than what he or she has promised to do to help you. But there is no more miserable place on earth than the intersection of doubt and regret. And that is where you may find yourself if you hire the first and only attorney you consult.

Meeting with more than one attorney before you make your final decision will bolster your confidence in the attorney you ultimately decide to hire. That is important because months or maybe even a year or so later when your case appears to have stalled or it takes a few unpleasant and unexpected twists and turns your attorney failed to predict, you won’t waste time and energy second-guessing your decision by questioning whether or not you hired the right person.

Successful relationships require tons of commitment. That’s why you must do your due diligence before hiring an attorney, because once you retain someone to represent you, you have to be committed to doing everything your attorney advises you to do. Assuming you hired the right attorney, the success of your attorney-client relationship will be directly proportional to your level of commitment.

It will not be enough for you to be involved in your case; you must be totally committed. What’s the difference between being involved and committed? I will answer that question with a popular riddle: In a bacon and egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig? The chicken is involved and the pig is committed. This may be one of the few instances in which being referred to as a “pig” is a good thing.

Your Lawyer Can’t Read Your Mind. Once you commit to an attorney, it is your responsibility to let him or her know what you expect to gain by hiring him or her and what is required to keep you happy. Assuming he or she knows what you expect is a big mistake. Waiting for your attorney to ask about your expectations is an even bigger mistake. When should you do this? As early in the relationship as possible and as often as necessary.

If you expect your attorney to provide you with weekly updates, you might say this: “I would appreciate it if you would email me at the end of each week with an update on the status of my case.” Or, if you expect your attorney to be prompt in returning your calls, you could say something like, “I will only call when I have something important to ask. That’s why I would appreciate it if you would return my calls within 24 hours of leaving a message.” And, if you expect your attorney to work on your case as opposed to a paralegal, then you should let him or her know by saying: “Since I made my check out to you, I expect that you will be the person working on my case and not someone who works for you.”

What you say is important. But it is not nearly as important as how you state your expectations.

Clients sometimes hesitate to be assertive because they do not want to appear to be bossy or demanding. If you feel this way, do whatever you need to do to get over it. Because you absolutely, positively need to—and should—be clear and decisive when stating your expectations so there is no room for confusion. If you beat around the bush or are too subtle there is a chance your attorney will not pick up on what you are trying to say. And it is really not fair to blame an attorney for not meeting an unstated expectation. In a previous section I told you that it is your attorney’s job to make himself or herself understood. Well, the reverse is also true. It is your responsibility to make yourself understood.

What if your lawyer does not seem receptive to a conversation about expectations? If the attorney says anything that remotely sounds like he or she is suggesting either directly or indirectly that your expectations are not his or her problem, then you need to take immediate steps to end the relationship. If possible stop payment on their check, tear up the retainer agreement and hire another attorney. An attorney who responds this way may have appeared to be right for you but their response should be a clear indication that they are not. The sooner you cut your losses the better. Jerks get better with time: they get better at being jerks.

While there is never a legitimate excuse for an attorney to behave badly toward a client, there may be another plausible explanation for an attorney’s resistance to addressing a client’s expectations. It is because the client’s expectations are not reasonable. It is not reasonable to expect your attorney to be a miracle worker. It is reasonable to expect your attorney to promptly return your calls. However it is not reasonable to expect him or her to return your call within two hours of you leaving a message with his or her receptionist. It is reasonable to expect your attorney to work hard to resolve your case as soon as possible. But you have to keep in mind that there are thousands of other people in your county who have also hired attorneys to work hard to have their cases resolved as soon as possible. Everyone can’t have their case heard first. Lots of people are going to have to get in line and lots more people are going to have to move to the back of the line.

What if you don’t have any definite expectations? I wish all of my life’s questions were this easy to answer. Before hiring an attorney log-on to EXPECTATIONS.com and download a bundle of them—kidding! If you don’t have expectations, you don’t have expectations. I am certainly not encouraging you to make a big deal out of something that does not matter to you. The only people that need to heed my advice regarding the importance of making their expectations clear to the attorney before hiring him or her are people who have clear expectations.

This is an excerpt from Who Not to Hire Download a copy below:
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Photo Credit: Daniel E. Lee on Visual Hunt

Posted in Who Not to Hire.

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