There are a lot of jokes you can tell about lawyers, very few of which are flattering. Next to politicians and members of the clergy, they’re probably one of the professions most closely associated with liars, scoundrels, and people of low moral character. However, for all that, they are a necessary aspect of civilised, lawful society, and you will need contact an attorney at least once or twice during the course of your life. So how do you tell the difference between a good lawyer and a bad one?
There’s no real science behind it, no mathematical algorithm that will flawlessly sort out the saints from the sinners. However there are several clues you can use to build up your assessment of the professionals you meet, and predict with reasonable accuracy which ones will be most beneficial to your needs.
Do Not Disregard Face-to-Face Contact
Never, under any circumstances, arrange things with a lawyer remotely. Given that most, if not all, legal experts offer a free initial consultation session, there is really no need to rely on a phone consult. The best way to assess someone’s character is to see them in person. Often you can come to a conclusion about their suitability within a few minutes of meeting with them, and it also provides an invaluable opportunity to discuss in person what they can to do to help you.
An immediate sign of a bad lawyer is that they’ll lie to you about their services. While meeting with the attorney in question, keep an eye out for these tell-tale hints:
• Eye Contact — Does the lawyer look you in the eye when talking to you, or do they look away frequently? Alternatively, do they maintain eye contact too much? If the lawyer seems to be trying too hard to maintain eye contact, to the point of rarely blinking, that’s also an indication of duplicity.
• Covering the Mouth — An automatic reflex when people are uncomfortable is to cover vulnerable areas of their body, such as the genitals, or their throat. Many adults also cover their mouths when lying, as a subconscious hint that they don’t want to reveal anything.
• Fidgeting — Some people also fidget when lying. They may shift in their seat frequently, constantly scratch their heads, or drum their fingers. Some people also become too still. It’s natural to gesture, to sink into more comfortable poses, and shift the head when talking. People who are lying, and therefore feel threatened, may remain stock still as a consequence of the old “fight or flight” instinct.
• Excessive and Irrelevant Information — Another thing to watch out for is too much unnecessary information. A bad lawyer will attempt to overwhelm you with information, or try to avoid answering original questions with a load of warble. So be on your guard if the attorney starts answering questions with things unrelated to the topic of discussion.
Does the Lawyer Listen?
Good lawyers will, during the course of your consultation, be responsive to you, your needs and what you have to say. If you have questions, they’ll respond in a frank and professional way.
Likewise, they should be sympathetic to any problems you may be facing, and willing to discuss solutions and workarounds to help you overcome them. Pay attention to how they talk to you during your consultation as well. The conversation should resolve, almost entirely, around you, your problem and how the attorney can help. If it seems as though the lawyer is just trying to sell a product to you, with little discussion about what the problem actually is, then you can write them off your list.
It’s also very important to ask about their opinions about your chances of success. A bad lawyer will probably sound unrealistically optimistic, and will wave away or dismiss any concerns raised to the contrary. A good lawyer will be open about difficulties or poor odds, even if they still believe they could win something. If you have concerns, the latter will also be more willing to discuss alternative options than the former. A good lawyer should also be happy for you to call them throughout the case if you have any further concerns later on.
One other thing you should find out is whether the lawyer will keep you updated as things develop. You want an attorney who you can keep in contact with, and who is willing to communicate with you about your case. Avoid those who seem reluctant to correspond with you frequently, or unreasonably insist on you contacting a third party to reach them.
Do Your Research
You should also make sure you know the lawyer’s past record. At the consultation, ask them what past cases they had, and the outcomes of them. With this questioning, make sure the firm in question has experience in the sorts of matters you want assistance with. There’s no point in hiring an attorney to help in a personal injury case if most of their past dealings dealt with drafting wills and contracts, you would want a personal injury lawyer like David R. Heil, and they should tell you this themselves. They should be happy to discuss past cases with you too.
Don’t just take their word for it. Ask around for people who’ve had dealings with the firm in question, and get a consensus on what they were like to work with. If a lawyer is particularly bad, then you can be sure to find people who want others to know about it.
Christian Mills is a freelance writer who contributes articles and advice on a wide range of topics affecting everyday life and the challenges affecting the small business operator.