Colorado's Personal Injury Law Blog


Hiring an Attorney: Who Not to Hire

Hiring an Attorney: Who Not to Hire

 Posted by:    Dec 10, 2010  


Many of our articles focus on tips for hiring the right trial attorney for your particular case. For years we have been hired as the second or even the third attorneys by clients whose first or second attorney didn't work out for them. After many years, we have developed a virtual catalog of those sorts of attorneys. The different types of characteristics of these lawyers that lead their clients to fire them fall into seven different categories.

If you are a lawyer and you recognize yourself in one these stereotypes below, let me apologize in advance, because this article will hurt your feelings. Unfortunately, there are some bad attorneys out there and, almost universally, one of the seven stereotypes below fits each one.

When you are trying to decide which attorney to hire for your personal injury case, consider classifying lawyers by certain characteristics, like we do. You will discover that there are traits that accurately describe a good number of lawyers seeking your business. It is best to recognize these characteristics in the lawyers that you interview, and except in the most extreme of circumstances, NOT hire them for your case.

While this article is intentionally amusing, its parody of certain legal professionals is intended to help you as you interview lawyers. Fortunately, a great number of legal professionals working in the area of plaintiff personal injury do not fit any of these amusing stereotypes. Those are the serious professionals that you should consider hiring for your case.

The problem with personal injury law is that it unduly has the reputation of being "easy law" that riff-raff attorneys think that they can bluff their way through. The reality is; Colorado personal injury law is very complex, rife with legislative modifications, multiple shortened statutes of limitations, and peppered with land mines at every turn giving the part-time practitioner lots of opportunities to commit serious malpractice.

As you begin to recognize some of the traits described below either in your current attorney or in the attorneys you are interviewing for your case, consider shopping for different counsel.

1) "The Street Hustler"

This guy might be young, but no matter what he looks like, his general appearance is likely that of a slob. His office is either an executive suite or a hastily assembled office of cheap furniture. The place has few if any staff around, and those who are there look unhappy.

Meeting with this guy will make you feel like you need to take a shower. This lawyer's approach will make you feel as though he is trying to sell you a stolen car. This type of lawyer tends to be incredibly gifted in salesmanship but lacks details specific to your legal questions. In reality he figures he will learn the details necessary about the basic law in this area, AFTER you hire him.

He will push you very hard to sign his fee agreement at the time you first meet. He will not want you to read anything he gives you too carefully, and will try his hardest to keep you from taking anything home with you to read and consider. He might say things like: "what would I have to do to get you to sign with me today?" He will talk about getting you "sick money." He will say things like "we need to get you over to our chiropractor." Or, "our doctor knows how to write the reports that can 'ring the bell' when it comes to settlement." He will think nothing of using foul language during your initial meeting and will probably ask you very few questions about your injuries, your course of treatment or about your immediate needs. His entire focus will be getting you to sign on the "dotted line."

The shortcoming of the "Street Hustler" is that he does not know what he is doing. His approach garners no respect amongst his adversaries, and every decent lawyer can see this guy coming a mile away. This sort of lawyer will never concern himself with details like your future medical needs, and he knows nothing of trial strategy in this area, probably having not tried a single case in his life. Every move he makes, despite his best of intentions, makes your case weaker instead of stronger.

If you identify the attorney you are meeting with or recently hired as a "Street Hustler", don't walk - RUN!

2) "The Jack of All Trades"

The expression is actually, "Jack of all trades and master of none." Often times these lawyers take anything, and I mean anything, that comes through the door that might keep their lights on. There of course is nothing wrong with general practice lawyers. Many of them are quite gifted. However, particularly in the area of personal injury law, these types of lawyers are generally out-gunned by more specialized insurance defense lawyers who work in this area of the law everyday.

A "Jack of All Trades" will meet with you on your car crash case, and then will want to "feel you out" about updating your will or assisting you with estate planning. He will inquire if you run a business and then may ask if your work ever hires lawyers to review contracts? He will find out if your marriage is on the skids, and then inquire as to whether you have a need for a divorce lawyer. Basically, any area of law that you might have an interest in hiring a lawyer for, he will try to convince you that he can handle it.

No one can truly understand and master, with the depth and proficiency necessary, personal injury law and also be proficient in all other areas of the law that a "Jack of All Trades" would have you believe. It is simply an impossible task.

"Jack" may be a personable guy, and in a small town he is likely a valuable member of the community. But, you should think twice about hiring the same guy who took care of your cousin's DUI, to assist you in your complicated and specialized issues pertaining to your commercial tractor trailer motor vehicle accident claim.

3) "The Dinosaur"

So, you walk into an office that hasn't been updated since the Eisenhower Administration, and wafting in the air is the combination smell of dust and mothballs. The lawyer comes shuffling out of the back room to greet you and he is a sweet little old man. Some attorneys stay around too long. That is not to say that older lawyers are not often excellent. They are. But, many lawyers do not know when to hang it up. Furthermore, for lawyers, personal injury law is lucrative enough that many times "dinosaurs" stick around too long in the hopes of landing that one last cash-cow case.

As you enter a meeting with a "dinosaur" you should no more assume that with their age has spawned excessive legal wisdom than you should assume that meeting with a younger lawyer means they lack meaningful legal experience. Old is old and nothing more.

If you find it as hard to talk to your new prospective attorney as it is to explain the same sort of things to your great grandpa, perhaps you should keep looking. As confused and old as he seems in your first meeting, when he is trying to impress you with his best foot forward, just wait until he is no longer trying to impress you.

These lawyers will tell you about their "glory days" of trials during the early 1970's, and say words like "well back then we didn't have seat belts in cars," and "Well, the judge, he's now dead, but I recall he use to..."

When lawyers start mentally slowing down, the effects on their clients can be catastrophic. I do not mean necessarily a certain age, but, if your prospective lawyer looks like he takes naps in the afternoon and eats dinner at 4:30 pm, you might want to keep looking around a little more before you decide to "hitch your wagon" to a Dinosaur.

4) "The CEO"

A law firm is a business. But, there are certain signs that will tell you when a lawyer has evolved from being an attorney in the trenches fighting the good battles for his clients into a complete CEO of a corporation. The CEO usually considers himself above the individual details of a particular case. He is more comfortable delegating to others and is more comfortable looking at spread sheets and trends in his business development.

The good news is spotting the CEO is easy. When you meet with a CEO, he will almost always have another associate, legal secretary, or office flunky sitting in the meeting. He doesn't plan on staying for the entire meeting. Ten, fifteen minutes tops, he will announce his important other commitment (probably a tee time) and leave you with the second-banana to finish up with the "lesser details"; things like what happened to you in the crash, how long you haven't been able to support your family because of your brain injury, and what the next steps are going to be.

The CEO type will refer to himself as "we" and will talk about "team approach." He will likely hand you a number of business cards of people in his office, but omit to give you one of his own. There is nothing wrong with working with the big-boss of a law firm. My clients love it. But, the big-boss has to still fashion himself a lawyer, not a company executive.

Unless you enjoy being relegated to secretaries, paralegals, and office clerks for your legal needs, you may want to leave the CEO to his spread sheets about photocopier productivity and hire a trial lawyer who still works as a trial lawyer, even if his name happens to be on the door.

5) "The Out of Sight, Out of Mind Guy"

The sad thing about the "Out of Sight, Out of Mind Guy" is what a heart breaker he can be. When you meet this apparently caring, articulate, intelligent, and responsive attorney, you will marvel at how he thinks nothing of talking to you, really talking to you. He gives you an hour and half maybe even a two hour for your initial meeting. He seems to care. He has a plan of action. And, most of all, he seems to really know what he is doing. When you sign with him he tells you about his plan of action with 15 things he plans on doing in the next several weeks relative to your case. You think to yourself, "I have found the best lawyer on earth."

But, his nickname comes from the fact that he spends all day, every day, the same way with everyone. Everyone he meets all day long, he promises the world. What he can't do is follow up. He doesn't return his phone calls. When you contact his staff about all the things that were supposed to be done on your case, they seem not to have a clue. The more you call, the more it seems you are a bother to him and his staff.

These "Out of Sight, Out of Mind Guy" types are very hard to spot in the first meeting. Their first impression is great. To spot them early you kind of have to arrive early for your meeting and hang out in the waiting room and hear what the receptionist and staff are talking about and then listen to what they are saying to other clients who call in.

It's subtle but if you are paying attention you can hear the one sided conversation when the receptionist buzzes back to lawyers saying "Joe Jones is calling AGAIN, are you here for him?" You also have to be prepared to turn to current clients also perhaps in the waiting room and ask them what their experience has been.

But, short of something troubling coming out of this limited first impression, clients generally only come to the realization that they hired an "Out of Sight, Out of Mind Guy" weeks or even months later. That is when no follow up has occurred and the lawyer hasn't returned a single phone call. It is truly a terrible way to learn that the lawyer you hired simply lacks appropriate follow up tools to back up his lofty promises.

If the lawyer you hire has a pattern of not timely returning your calls, dump him. It means he is either an "Out of Sight, Out of Mind Guy" or he has too many cases. Either way, your case will not be handled the way it should and you need to move on to a lawyer who will return your calls and will do what he promises to do.

6) "The Penny-Pincher"

Where as the "out of sight out of mind guy" is hard to spot, the "Penny-Pincher' is really easy to spot.

His office will not validate your parking. His office will look cheap. He won't have much, if any, support staff, choosing to save "unnecessary salaries" by interrupting your meeting half a dozen times to answer his own phone and sign for a package. His fee agreement will obsess about your obligation to pay, in advance, all out of pocket expenses. He will detail an excessive retainer to offset copying charges. Also, he won't offer you coffee or any kind of refreshment during your meeting.

In this economy, there is nothing wrong with being financially efficient. But, the attorney you hire to represent you against a manufacturer who injured your daughter with their product, or whom you hire to sue a rich trucking company who put a sleepy driver on the road to kill your spouse, needs to have the finances and the willingness to go for it. If the lawyer you hire looks cheap, and doesn't look like he can dance with the big-boys, rest assured the other side will smell it and it will cost you.

Unfortunately, the "Penny-Pincher" runs the risk of costing you many hundreds of thousands of readily available dollars, because he won't or can't float the expenses necessary to mount a proper case. Hiring this guy to review a contract or handle a simple traffic ticket is fine. But, hiring this guy as your trial attorney for a serious personal injury or wrongful death case is very dangerous and invariably a mistake.

7) "The Absent Minded Professor"

This guy's office isn't so much cheap or hastily assembled as much as it is in complete disorder. There will likely be stacks of unrelated items on top of stacks of other unrelated items. I once visited one of these lawyers, he had a client's MRI film folded into fourths and wedged under an uneven leg of his couch. The rest of that clients file was strewn across the couch and partly on the floor.

Now, different than the "street hustler," these lawyers tend to be truly intelligent, with almost scary legal minds. They are often brilliant, but can't function in the real world. They will walk into the client meeting looking like an unmade bed. Usually, there is something overtly out of order about their appearance. For example, they may have only half of their face shaven, or perhaps toothpaste prominently displayed on their tie.

During your meeting they can recite every case in Colorado in sequential order on the issue of insurance company bad faith, but during your initial meeting, will misplace the documents you let him look at right in front of you three times.

By way of parallel example, Bobby Fischer was considered the greatest Chess mind of his time, and certainly the most dominant US player in history. But, after wining only one World Championship, he retreated to wondering the streets of Los Angles and playing chess against himself on a little board while riding public transportation all day.

Simply stated, these "absent minded professor" types are intelligent and often quite lovable. But trial attorneys need to be grounded, focused and living in the real world. If your trial attorney seems to fit the image of an "Absent Minded Professor", be mindful that his forgetfulness might cost you in your case; and it might cost you huge.

CONCLUSION:

The practical reality is that most attorneys have traits of all or many of the stereotypes identified above. In fact, for an attorney to be a little bit of any of the above should be expected, and often might even be a good thing. The problem lies in having an attorney who is an extreme any of these stereotypes. These stereotypes represent a cross section of attorneys all of which have no business handling your important personal injury claim.

At ANDERSON HEMMAT & McQUINN, we recognize the importance of hiring the right lawyer on your case. If you have met with or hired anyone of the lawyers described above, please call us today to discuss making a change. The process of changing lawyers is simple and will not cost you any money. We are confident that we can meet your needs and look forward to working with you.









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