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You’ve Got Lawyer Names: Now What? (Hiring an Attorney)
It all starts with first impressions. Can you think of a time when your first contact with someone really mattered? It almost always does. This is especially true for a criminal defense lawyer. If your first impression of them personally is poor, think about how a jury, judge, or adverse counsel will perceive them. If your first impression of the staff at their office is poor, think about how client service will be once you are a paying client.
For example, Arnold Law Managing Partner Mike Arnold remembers a time when a first impression really mattered to him:
I remember when my wife and I were applying for law schools. I applied for a scholarship to a prestigious state university. I called them after not hearing back about the scholarship application that I submitted to them weeks earlier. I talked to someone?in?the front desk in admissions. She asked me my name and said she couldn’t see me on the?list of applicants. She then asked me what my LSAT score was and my GPA. When I told her, she kind of laughed to herself and told me that I didn’t need to worry about getting this scholarship, because it probably wasn’t happening. I thanked her for her candor and apologized for wasting her time. I went out to the?mailbox?later that day and there was my scholarship award in the mail. I threw it right in the trash and had no intent whatsoever of even visiting this university. If that was the customer service they give me when I hadn’t even decided to give them any money yet, imagine what customer service is like once I was trapped there as a student with no other options.
Now, Mike’s application experience doesn’t completely transition to the service industry because we as attorneys have obligations to our current clients to meet their needs before spending time with prospective clients. But when you are first contacting a law firm’s office, first impressions matter.
How does the front desk treat when you call as a prospective?client? Even if a law firm is too busy to take on a new case, the firm staff should be responding in a timely manner because that shows they organized. The?last?thing you want to do is to hire?a?law?firm?that?is so disorganized that they can’t even control their internal follow-up mechanisms. How do you think they are going to handle court deadlines that need to be self-imposed by the attorney when you are actually a client? However, mistakes happen, people go on vacation and attorneys go to trial, so this isn’t necessarily a fatal problem if a genuine apology follows a delay in contact.
Once you contact the law firm, you will learn that different attorneys have different intake procedures. Some attorneys may get you on the phone right away for a free conversation for a few minutes. Some may want you to come to the office in person more formally. Regardless, you will eventually want to meet them in person, look them in the eye and shake their hands before making your final decision.
As you talk to the law firm personnel, try to think about why they are telling you certain things. Are they?overselling themselves as if they were selling a used car? Or are they soft selling themselves by?strictly?presenting their firm?philosophy, past case?successes?and client reviews?
What if the attorney or their staff bad mouths other lawyers? Stay away from them. That is a warning sign that they are unprofessional, disagreeable, and bad businessmen. As your mother probably taught you, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Those that are disparaging their competitors are probably desperate for your business. The supply and demand curve will tell you the reason they are not in high demand: quality of service. One trick to really learn about the lawyer is to tell them that you are also considering lawyers X, Y and Z, and then ask them what they think of them. Most good lawyers will speak highly and recommend the ones they trust and say nothing at all about the ones where they have nothing good to say. You will learn a lot about the character of the attorney by doing this.
If none of the lawyers have been disqualified by your initial contact, go back and continue learning about their experience. After you review the website and you haven’t seen anything that would cause you to take the potential attorney off the list, you should google him or her. The internet is a wealth of information about your potential attorney, not just her own website but other?people’s?websites. You may find Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts about or by your attorney.
You should be looking closely at media and news articles to get an idea of what kind of cases your attorney takes on. For example, on the firm website your attorney may have portrayed himself to be this incredible, seasoned defense?lawyer but when you go online, you may find out that primarily the cases that he is doing that are being reported on are civil cases. This may cause you to have some real questions when you meet with your lawyer about what his or her criminal?defense?experience actually is.
Checking the local news for information about your attorney is?especially?useful for those seeking criminal defense lawyers because the modern 24/7 news cycle has turned most,?if not?all, small town newspapers into crime beat police press release firms. They simply report about ongoing cases because those cases are?the low?hanging fruit of the media world. Arrests and court cases are always a matter of public record and there’s always something going on. Look and see by clicking on Google’s “news” tab. Is the attorney taking cases that are of local?interest? If you do not see any cases in the media involving this attorney that may be a good example of supply and demand. The demand for this attorney is not high enough for him or her to work on these locally “high profile” cases.
There are also multiple “review” sites like Facebook’s pages, Avvo.com, Lawyers.com, etc. People are free to post about lawyers and rate them. Most of the websites require a statement that you have actual personal knowledge about the lawyer, but there is little that they do to enforce the requirement. You should take the online reviews with a grain of salt. Most happy clients, particularly?non-millennial?folks that are over the age of 30, don’t go to the internet to praise someone. They?typically?thank their attorneys with a more personal touch, such as flowers or a fruit basket.
The negative reviews may or may not be useful to you. The negative reviews are clearly unhappy people. In some cases, those reviewers are adverse parties that have been?slighted, or even trounced by the lawyer they reviewed. In other cases, the review may have been completed by someone who was unhappy with the result that he obtained, which had less to do with his attorney and more to do with the trouble that he had gotten himself into in the first place. Finally, we all know someone who, because of a personality quirk or personality disorder, can never be satisfied. Log what you see, and then as you do your research, see if the bad review is supported by the rest of your research.
Further, if you want to confirm whether your potential attorney has ever been disciplined or had any trouble with the state bar, you can contact the state bar and ask for the publicly available information about the attorney. An attorney who has been disciplined for mismanaging or stealing a client’s money, neglecting a client’s case, lying, or lacking the knowledge and skills to handle a case like yours should be avoided.