Don’t Hire A Peacock.
The first article in this course helped you identify any resistance you have to hiring a lawyer. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of why you need a lawyer and how the right lawyer for you can address any resistance or doubts that you may have.
So now that you are more comfortable with the idea of hiring a lawyer, you need to know how to go about it. Usually most people turn to the internet at this point. Or they call around to ask for a referral.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with these methods to start gathering a list of candidates. Internet offerings and personal references are also a great way to vet lawyers before you waste any time talking to them.
But that being said, a bunch of stuff that lawyers put online to impress you is just a display of colorful feathers. You need to identify the peacocks and move on.
I once worked with a lawyer who is the epitome of the peacock. He was bombastic and bragged. He would name-drop. He would encourage the client to be aggressive and he would showboat when the client was around to prove how “tough” he was and how intimidating he would be to the other lawyers. The client loved it. But here’s the truth: other lawyers are not intimidated by this stuff. All his showboating did was create more work for all of us and sour relationships between counsel, making the case impossible to settle. This cost the client more money. This lawyer also would have malpracticed if I had not been there quietly executing a sophisticated legal strategy while he strutted around convincing the client how impressive and aggressive he is. (Although I guess that’s a good strategy for a lawyer who is just interested in getting paid.)
Things That Do Not Matter When Identifying a Good Lawyer
Unless you’ve had the opportunity to be intimately familiar with a particular lawyer’s work style and work product, it’s hard to tell whether a lawyer’s skills are any good. Even other lawyers won’t necessarily be able to fully evaluate another lawyer without seeing them in action for a little bit. So we all rely on certain accolades and reputation (i.e. popularity with other lawyers) to filter through the pile.
Rankings and Awards
So a bit of honesty here: I prominently display my 10.0 Avvo rating and my SuperLawyers badges, along with half a dozen other awards on my website. The truth is, people like them. Other lawyers are impressed. People think it means I’m a good lawyer.
And I am a good lawyer. But not because Avvo or SuperLawyers says so.
Those rating systems, like all rating systems, are flawed. For example, I know people rated as a 10 out of 10 on Avvo who have been practicing law for only two years. Unless he’s a savant, no lawyer is a perfect 10 skills-wise after a mere two years’ experience. But they have done all the right things to market themselves and that is why they are well-ranked.
Bad lawyers definitely slip through. I know some real hacks who manage to get well-ranked through clever marketing. I also know some great but incompetent guys who are socially popular enough that they do well with peer-reviews. You do not want a guy who’s highest talent is that he could be your drinking buddy.
Also, many of the awards are “pay-to-play.” Many others, I suspect, are chosen by the committees based on factors including the likelihood that a lawyer or their firm will purchase advertising. I hate to pull back the curtain and reveal the Wizard of Oz is a mere man. But I suspect that pretty much all industry awards operate in the same way.
Awards are great marketing, and perhaps even deserved by most (like me!). But just remember that they are not a substitute for further due diligence when it comes to hiring a lawyer.
It is unethical for a lawyer to guarantee you a certain result in your case. We are legally prohibited from doing it. If a lawyer promises you a result or tells you a case is easy, a slam-dunk or without risk… run away because this lawyer is just telling you what you want to hear in order to get your business. He plans to just figure it out later, or maybe he doesn’t care if you are ultimately disappointed.
I understand that a common complaint about lawyers is that we equivocate. I understand that you want an answer, not just a bunch of possibilities and probabilities. But the best I will ever tell you is that your position is strong and therefore you have an 80% chance at winning. Too many things can happen to take the car off the rails for me to say any higher than that. And many times, I will tell you that your chances are worse than that. Or that I have multiple scenarios of varying acceptability that I am aiming for. And any good, truth-telling lawyer, will say the same.
There is no such thing as the sure fire win even if you are as pure as the newly driven snow. There is no such thing as a certain big money award (in fact, a lawyer who obtains a seven-figure award for their client is so rare that there is a special bar for them that is by invitation only). A lawyer who appeals solely to your desire for good news is not providing you meaningful advice or professional service.
Where the lawyer went to law school
Lawyers may use a show of wealth and school pedigrees in order to prove that they are skillful and worthy of being hired. These things are not the best indicators of a good lawyer. Lots of bad lawyers went to Harvard, and lots of good lawyers went to the local law school (and vice versa). One of the most incompetent and unethical lawyers I have ever had the displeasure of meeting wore a Rolex and drove a Bentley. So that’s not the way to choose. Don’t use a fancy office or a prestigious school on a lawyer’s resume as a substitute for doing your homework before hiring. Neither a fancy office nor a degree from Harvard are bad things, but they aren’t the important things.
Does your lawyer need to have a record of Big Money Wins?
This one depends on the type of lawyer you are seeking to hire. If you have a wrongful death case against Exxon, you want a lawyer with seven figure verdicts at jury trial under his belt. That guy knows how to sell a big case to a jury, and that is a very special skill.
But most of the time, asking a lawyer how much money he has won is not that useful. It is even less useful when a lawyer claims that his firm has recovered millions for his clients (this is not that hard to do in a volume practice or even with just a steady flow or cases settled with mediocre results).
In fact, most lawyers are transactional or administrative lawyers and therefore have no win or loss record. Lots of lawyering work has nothing to do with lawsuits. Criminal defense lawyers plea bargain most things, and conviction rates are 98% of cases that are not plead, so you cannot judge them by their win-loss record.
Civil defense lawyers may settle most cases and therefore have few outright wins. But they may have achieved consistently excellent results for their clients given the circumstances. Indeed, only 1% of civil cases go to trial through verdict. And so the vast majority of lawyers have never even stood before a jury. Of those who have, even the best have lost a case. A win-loss record can therefore be misleading — it certainly does not tell the whole story.
You will need to ask yourself first whether you even need a trial lawyer. It depends on the area of law and the dispute or issue. General counsel and business advice, for example, involve different experiences than trial lawyering (although one person may possess both skill sets). Because true trial lawyers are rare, they command a premium price. But if you are in a lawsuit of any value, you probably want a trial lawyer on the team early in the case work up.
Now that I have told you what you should avoid and what you should take with a grain of salt, you next need to learn what does matter. The third lesson in this course will help you identify the necessary qualities and skills for your lawyer. Here’s a hint: look at their body of work to determine their expertise, knowledge, approach and technical skills.