As I was writing this book, I came across an article about a professional matchmaker who earns millions each year helping rich men who are too busy to socialize to find the women of their dreams. The men who seek out her services must be willing to do more than just write a big check. Before she will accept a man as a client he must undergo a rigorous application process that includes completing a 100-page questionnaire and submitting to an intensive interview. And once she is retained, she takes him out on two or three practice dates prior to introducing him to potential soul mates.
Her track record for making lasting connections was impressive. The article included testimonials from many of her satisfied customers who are now happily married to women they met through her. At least two of the couples interviewed for the article had been married more than twenty years. The more I read about her, the more jealous I became of her.
What does the million-dollar matchmaker got that I don’t have?
Besides a million-dollar income, she has the ability to sit down and really get to know each of her clients before attempting to find their one and only. She indicated that this was the secret to her success.
If I could get to know you as well as the matchmaker can get to her know her clients, I too could provide you with the complete dossier of the attorney you should hire. However, let’s face it: The scope of this book won’t allow me to do anything that would come remotely close to what the matchmaker does with her clients. But I learned a long time ago to never let what I can’t do stop me from doing what I can do.
So, while I can’t give you the name and number of the lawyer that’s right for you, in the next section I will introduce you to three different professional personas that most attorneys have adopted. I refer to them as the Technician, the Counselor, and the Attack Dog. Taking time to carefully examine each of these is important because an attorney’s professional persona reflects more than just his or her personality; it can give you invaluable insight on how he or she engages and interacts with clients.
Forgive me if I am stating the obvious, but I want to make something clear: The terms I have used to describe each of the personas are for illustrative purposes only. They are not “words of art,” which means if you use them with someone who has not read this book, he or she may have no clue what you are talking about. That said, let’s look at the three personas in detail.
If you ever find yourself sitting down across the table from a Technician, don’t expect them to spend a lot time on small talk. He or she is not likely to ask about your weekend or compliment you on your new handbag. A Technician’s primary—and maybe even exclusive—focus will be on the facts of your case. In their minds the facts matter more than you do.
In the eyes of a Technician, they don’t represent people; they handle cases. That’s why they primarily want to know the “who, what, where and when” of whatever problem it is that you need them to solve. If you show up in their office because you were cited for speeding through a school zone, they are only concerned with how fast you were driving. They may express little or no interest in how embarrassed you felt about being pulled over by the police with your teenage son in the car whom you had just grounded for two weeks for speeding.
There is a good chance in your search for the attorney that’s right for you that you will cross paths with a Technician. The legal profession is filled with them. Why is that? The training lawyers receive in law school emphasizes technical legal issues like contracts, real property, estates and torts. I don’t know of any law schools that offer courses in social interaction or emotional expression. And most importantly, and I know that I am using a broad brush, but most of the people who become law professors do so because they love the law, not because they love people. Technicians produce Technicians.
In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should let you know that I am pretty sure my clients can attest to the fact that I am not a Technician. But contrary to whatever bias you may have detected in my depiction I don’t have anything against attorneys who are. In fact there may be certain type of cases in which they may be uniquely suited.
Cases that don’t require a lot of one-on-one face time are an example. These types of cases include: business matters such as incorporations or collections; routine patent, trademark, and copyright matters; transactional matters such as real estate closings; minor traffic matters and simple estate matters such a preparing a will. The less time you have to spend interacting with your attorney the less their personality—or lack thereof—will matter to you.
Counselors are “people” people. Perhaps the best way to describe counselors is to compare them to technicians. If you were to break down and start crying while meeting with a technician, he or she would hand you a box of Kleenex. A Counselor is more likely to respond to your emotional outburst by giving you a hug.
Counselors are not afraid to engage with their clients on both an intellectual and emotional level. That’s why during your initial consultation with a Counselor, when he or she asks, “How are you doing today?” they will listen to what you have to say. A Counselor is interested in more than just the facts of your case. They want to hear your story. In a divorce case, for example, they will want to know more than what happened to cause the marriage to break down. They may ask about how you met your spouse. They will want to know more than just your kids’ names and birthdates. They will ask about their hobbies and how they are coping with the pending divorce.
Counselors offer their clients more than just legal advice. They will also offer words of encouragement and assurance as you move throughout the process. I am definitely a Counselor. I practice primarily in the area of family law, which means I help people who are faced with the challenge of getting custody of their kids or trying to get spousal support from a man who just quit his job and moved in with someone young enough to be his daughter.
Not surprisingly, and more often than not, by the time a client arrives at my office, he or she is emotionally spent and sometimes scared to death about whether they will be able to handle what lies ahead for them. I consider it part of my job to help my clients feel better. That’s why I am always reminding them that they have what it takes to do what needs to be done. And although I am a straight shooter when it comes to what I think the ultimate outcome of their case will be, I encourage my clients to maintain a positive perspective of their circumstances.
There is something else that I think distinguishes counselors from technicians. Counselors are more likely to go beyond simply advising you regarding what your rights are in a particular situation. You should not be surprised if he or she takes it a step further and offers insight about doing what’s right. Let’s say you hired a technician to prepare your last will and testament. If you tell the technician that you have two children but plan to leave everything you own to only one of them he or she will more than likely prepare the will per your instructions, no questions asked.
A Counselor, on the other hand, will also prepare the will but not without first inquiring about your motives. He or she will ask you to consider the long-term adverse emotional impact your decision will have on the child who receives nothing and may explore other things you can do to achieve your desired objective in a way that will be less hurtful to that child.
Do you think an attorney’s job is to just do what you direct them to do? Or should an attorney help you see the broader implications of what you direct them to do? If you have never thought about these questions you should take time to do so. Although there is no right or wrong answer to either question, your response will speak volumes about what type of attorney is right for you.
If the thought of working with a Counselor appeals to you, then I have good news. A good Counselor will not be hard to find: the legal profession is filled with them. But that is not all, there is more good news. Counselors are well suited to handle any type of case, including the type of cases that I said Technicians were good at handling.
Personally, I think Counselors are best suited for cases involving family matters. I am pretty sure the fact that I am a Counselor who specializes in family law has birthed this opinion, but after over twenty-five years of practicing law I am convinced that when someone’s family is in crisis they will only benefit from having an attorney who approaches the practice of law the way Counselors do.
The Attack Dog
Are you turned off by both the Technician’s and Counselor’s approach to the practice of law? Do neither of them sound like the kind of lawyer you are looking for? Then maybe this third type of attorney may appeal to you. I usually refer to them—both in print and in person—as Attack Dogs. Why? Because they are locked, loaded and paid to pounce. Attack Dogs have no interest in compromise and negotiation. And there is a good chance the words “fairness” and “reasonable” may have been deliberately redacted from their personal dictionaries.
An Attack Dog’s objective, whether stated or unstated, is not just to win your case but to destroy the opposition in the process. If you just found out your husband of thirty years has been cheating on you for twenty-nine of those years with the woman you thought was your best friend, or your business partner has been funneling the money that was supposed to be used to pay your Federal taxes into an offshore account that you didn’t know existed until the IRS showed up at your door, then you may feel like an Attack Dog is just what the doctor ordered for your case. Because let’s face it: In these instances you may want to do more than just divorce your spouse or dissolve your business; you may not be satisfied until the opposing party has been ripped into a million little pieces.
Let me be clear, however: while I strongly believe that you should not hire an Attack Dog to represent you in a child custody case, there are certain legal fights where I feel you would be remiss not to show up without this type of attorney. You can trust and believe that if I were embroiled in a personal injury case against an insurance company or large corporation, or if I killed someone or was accused of killing someone, I would want an Attack Dog fighting on my behalf. Why? Because you can bet your car payment that will be the kind of attorney you will be going against.
While all good lawyers are zealous in the representation of their client’s interest, you should know Attack Dogs can be unabashedly—and sometimes indiscriminately—obstinate, ruthless and aggressive. So, what’s the problem? Perhaps nothing as long you make sure you never find yourself in his or her crosshairs. How do you think he or she is going to react if you fail to do what he or she tells you to do or if you fail to make timely payments on your outstanding retainer fee? I can’t say for sure, but you should not be surprised if he or she unleashes the same “leave no flesh behind” approach to dealing with you.
What type of lawyer would I be?
Can you save yourself some time and trouble by asking yourself this question and then going out and hiring an attorney that is like you? In other words, if you self-identify as an Attack Dog then does it make sense to hire one? In a perfect world, the answer would be yes. But, since our world is far from perfect, the answer is that it depends.
In some instances, it is a good idea for birds of a feather to flock together, but in many other situations opposites attract. You should let your experience be your guide. If you tend to get along well with people who have a personality similar to your personality, then by all means take that under consideration. But if you are constantly butting heads with people who don’t act like you do, then this is not something you should ignore when hiring an attorney.
It may be more helpful to look closely at the other professional relationships in your life that work well. There is a really good chance that you will find that the same personality traits that have endeared you to your favorite doctor will be equally appealing in the attorney that’s right for you.
This is an excerpt from Who Not to Hire. Download your copy below:
Who Not to Hire
Photo Credit: Visual Hunt