Debunking Complaints Against Lawyers
I frequently receive calls from potential clients complaining about other lawyers who represent them, have represented them, or they have called to represent them. Below are some of my favorite call topics, and my responses to them.
Comment: “I have called or e mailed many lawyers and no one but you have returned my calls or e mails.”
Response: A lawyer does not want to talk to someone who is fishing around for free advice, and calls 15-20 lawyers or more in the process. A short inquiry is fine, but some callers want to spend a large amount of time discussing their situation. Lawyers generally only need specific information to determine if callers have a viable case, so please be respectful of their time and the questions you ask of them. A general e mail is even worse, because it is unclear how many lawyers have been contacted via one e mail. I have had many e mails sent to me via websites which are addressed to lawyers with different names. The inquirer did not even take the time to change the name. Why would a lawyer even respond to such an e mail? There are also many scam e mails lawyers receive from all over the world, and it is difficult to tell which are legitimate.
Many inquirers do not seem to realize that “a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade”, a saying that is usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Let’s do the math. If a lawyer gets 20 calls a day from prospective clients and spends an average of 15 minutes on each call, they have spent 5 hours on the phone and they haven’t earned a dime if all of those callers are trolling around for free advice. They have businesses to run and expenses to meet. These same callers would not dream of taking up another professional’s time free of charge.
Comment: “My lawyer didn’t do anything, or didn’t say anything in court.”
Response: Although this may be the case, in my many years of experience I find this is rare. Lawyers often do much of their work behind the scenes, and do not communicate every single thing they do to their client, as this would be even more time-consuming, especially to clients who pay hourly, and who would not appreciate being charged for this service. Clients need to trust that their lawyers are putting in the necessary time to assist them, and in contingency fee cases, lawyers don’t get paid if they don’t settle or win a case, so why would they not do the work to ensure success? Lawyers also cannot guarantee the results of any case.
Lawyers who appear in court have to measure what they say. They don’t often want to raise numerous objections which may offend the judge and delay the proceedings; they may determine from the judge’s mood or nature of the case that saying less would be better; and they may decide to play the good layer and let the opposing lawyer rant and rave to their client’s detriment. Clients don’t always understand these nuances and think that the lawyer who rants and raves is the better lawyer. They probably get this impression from television, but a real courtroom experience is very different from a televised courtroom experience.
Comment: “Many other lawyers have told me what you said, but I don’t believe it and I want to take my chances that I can convince the judge of my case on my own.”
Response: I often say to clients, would you perform brain surgery on yourself, and if not, why do you think you know more about the law and courtroom procedure than a lawyer? Do not mistake your ability to file a case in court as a pro se litigant with the certainty that you can represent yourself successfully. The law and the rules surrounding it are extremely complex and vary from court to court and county to county. Of course there are some people who represent themselves successfully, but this is a very rare outcome in a complex case in a court other than a first level court.
Comment: “It isn’t fair, where is justice?”
Response: Life in general isn’t fair, and justice depends on many things. A soup to nuts lawsuit on certain matters costs a minimum of $75,000-$100,000 and upwards for a lawyer’s time, plus thousands of dollars in court. If one can afford to pay a lawyer that amount, that is great. If one can find a firm to accept the case on a contingency fee basis (usually in serious injury or death cases), that is great, but for the vast majority of others, their path to fairness and justice in the legal system will be seriously limited by what they can afford to spend.
Comment: “I spent all of my money (fill in the amount, but it is usually into the many thousands of dollars) on a lawyer and now I have no money left, so can you take my case on a contingency fee basis?”
Response: I love these calls, and wonder, why wasn’t I the one they had thousands of dollars to pay? It is not a lawyer’s responsibility to pick up a case free of charge after another lawyer/s have worked on a case and gotten paid. Oftentimes the cases at issue are those in which a lawyer can’t possibly make money (although the callers assure the lawyer will make millions from the free publicity), such as custody or support cases, or which are so far along in the legal process, or so many mistakes have already been made, that it is a losing case. Bilanz Hattingen