What is the biggest mistake people make when hiring an attorney?
Let me give you a hint:
It is the same big fat hairy mistake people make in their personal life: They hook up—by that I mean they enter into a serious relationship—with someone with whom they are completely and utterly incompatible.
If you have been fortunate enough to avoid this mistake, I would bet real money that you know someone (and probably more than one someone) who has not been so lucky.
I have a friend who has a television in every room in her house. Yes, that includes her two bathrooms. She has the televisions strategically placed so no matter where she sits or stands she has an unobstructed view of her favorite programs. This woman loves watching television so much that she plans her days, evenings and vacations around what’s coming on television. She has even used her sick leave to stay home and watch a 24-hour marathon of her favorite sitcom.
When her marriage ended abruptly less than year after her stroll down the aisle, she said it was due in large part to the fact that her husband did not like watching television. She wanted to spend her evenings watching The Voice; he wanted to go out with friends and sing karaoke.
Why would someone whose life revolves around television marry someone who hates it?
That is a perfectly good question.
I am hopeful that one day in the not too distant future, my friend will be able to look back on her marriage, learn from and maybe even laugh about her poor decision to marry Mr. Karaoke. However, until that time, I have resisted the temptation to start any conversations about her marriage that begin with the word why.
So, your perfectly good question about my friend will have to go unanswered.
However, I am prepared to offer a theory as to why people hire attorneys with whom they are not compatible. I think it is because most people believe all lawyers are alike. And because they think they are all the same, they do not see any point in seeking out one that’s right for them.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Your ability to find a lawyer that’s right for you is directly proportional to your ability to view lawyers the same way Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston suggested we view people from races different from our own.
She said: “Light came to me when I realized that I did not have to consider any group as a whole. God made people duck by duck and that was the only way I could see them.”
“Duck by duck” is also the only way to view lawyers. I must confess whenever I share this concept with workshop participants, there is always at least one person who looks at me cross-eyed and lets me know they are not interested in buying what I am selling.
But what I discover, again and again, is that the people who reject the notion that lawyers should be judged on a case-by-case basis have never actually hired an attorney. So, how does someone who has had little or no one-on-one contact with attorneys acquire such entrenched negative beliefs about them?
It happens because (unless we were juvenile delinquents), most of our initial encounters with an attorney happened while watching television. And because first impressions are the most enduring, it is difficult to shake the image of the one-dimensional television lawyer who—more often than not—is depicted as a greedy, fast-talking, heartless, morally challenged egomaniac.
Have I ever been successful in changing someone’s mind about attorneys once it is made up? It may be a stretch to claim I have changed anyone’s mind, but I believe I am able to open participant’s mind to the possibility that what I am suggesting is the truth about lawyers by asking two fairly simple questions. Here is the first question:
What do television personality Star Jones, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi, legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell, consumer activist Ralph Nader and French novelist Franz Kafka have in common?
Usually after a few false starts, someone will point out that they are all lawyers. Then, I ask the second question: What characteristics besides being a lawyer do they all share? At this point the room usually goes quiet as the participants struggle to respond, and I take this opportunity to make my case. I tell them that this question is hard to answer because the legal profession is made of an infinite variety of lawyers. I remind them that if we allow ourselves to believe the fallacy that lawyers are all the same we may become reluctant to expend the time and energy needed to find the lawyer that is perfectly suited to both our personality and situation.
Your lawyer must be perfect. Yes, I said perfect.
Perfect does not mean to be without flaw. It actually means to be looked upon as good. I am encouraging you to find an attorney that is a good fit for you. I hesitated, just for a second, to use the word “perfect” because I feared it would place unnecessary stress on you as you search for an attorney. And we all know stress sometimes leads to paralysis.
To get you moving, I offer the same assurance I shared with a recently unemployed neighbor as we listened to the evening news anchor interview an economist who claimed that several hundred thousand jobs would need to be created each month to bring the country to full employment. Despite the dismal national economic forecast, I reminded my friend that she did not need to find one-hundred thousand jobs, she only needed to find one job to be fully employed. If you forget everything else I have said thus far, please, please keep this in mind: You only need to find one attorney who is right for you.
This post is excerpted from Who Not to Hire. Download your free copy below: