Lawyers are human (it’s true) and therefore predictable to some degree. We are very much like everyone else. We all operate out of self-interest (including those who deny it and, therefore, should never be trusted).
Use this fact to gain insight into whether the lawyer you’re hiring is going to do what he promises. If he says he can win your case for a mere $500, ask him to put it in writing, and you’ll quickly discover he’s only trying to shine a light up your skirt. Know that you get what you pay for but that you can easily pay too much for too little, in which case you do not get what you pay for. I never met a lawyer who could win a case, however simple, for only a $500 fee. I’ve met some who work pro bono, i.e., for free, now and then. I’ve met a few who reduce their rates for people who really can’t afford to pay full scale. But, I’ve never met a lawyer worth his salt who charged as little as $500 to do anything more than write a few letters and make a few phone calls. It’s too easy to make much more, so by remembering the lawyer your consulting with isn’t in this business to do charity work for people who can afford to pay, you’ll avoid the trap into which so many people fall as the lawyer says, "Oh, we’ll take your case for a retainer of … let’s see … can you make an initial deposit of $500?" Of course you can … but do you know how much it’s going to cost down the road?
A third-grader asked her teacher at school, "Teacher? What’s two plus two?" The teacher replied, "Why, Betty, two plus two is four, my dear." The little girl asked her mom, an accountant, "Mommy? What’s two plus two?" The sharp businesswoman, familiar with ledgers and accounts, dealing daily with numbers much larger than two, juggling figures for her clients so net profits appear or disappear with a magical move of her trained pencil, turned to her inquisitive daughter with a smile and replied, "What would you like it to be, Sweetie?" Confused and dazed by these conflicting answers, the young lady asked her dad, an established lawyer in town, "Daddy? Can you tell me what two plus two might be."
The wise father, aware of the uncertain complexities of his law practice and billing procedures employed by lawyers generally, turned to his daughter and said, "Betty, we need to carefully consider the answer before responding. One can never be certain of the truth of a thing until the truth of the thing has been proven completely. Though we may believe today that we have a fairly accurate idea of the answer, experience has shown that
in due course, after an unspecified period of time, once we’ve had a chance to look at the evidence more closely, the number will probably be more than we anticipate at present." So it is with lawyers fees. They usually end up being more than the lawyer tells you at the beginning. Self-interest is alive and well. Don’t get taken in. I’ll tell you how to protect yourself in the following chapters, but for now you must remember and never forget: We lawyers aren’t in this business to lose money and, certainly, we have no interest in helping you get more money unless we get a sizeable portion of what we generate or save or recover for you. Be prepared to pay. And, don’t trust those who promise a bargain, cut-rate, discount price. They’re either lying or incompetent … or both!
It’s always amazed me that some people think that because we lawyers passed our bar exams and were licensed to practice in the courts that we’re so competent and capable that any one of us can win their case. It just isn’t so! We’re people first of all, and just as in all other walks of life, we are none of us exactly the same. There are good lawyers. There are bad lawyers. And there are a few who should be dragged out of town by the hair of their head! Being permitted to stand before judge and jury to fight with words for the legal rights of people who, because of their limited legal education, cannot fight for themselves is an honor like no other … and a grave responsibility. Whether we’re defending an innocent, falsely accused murderer facing the death penalty or representing a widow about to lose her home to the avarice of a selfish landlord, we lawyers are called to honor the system of law and order that has made America the greatest nation on earth by being good at what we do. We should know our stuff! We should understand the ins-and-outs of the rules of procedure, the rules of evidence, and the underlying law and facts that will determine the outcome of our clients’ cases.
Above all we should be good with words! All the legal education the world can provide will never replace the need to communicate effectively. If the lawyer you seek to hire cannot make himself understood, if he talks in circles, if he seems to go off on
tangents, if he laughs at his own jokes, or if he talks incessantly without listening to what you have to say … move on! Lawyers must be word-warriors first and foremost. They must be able to communicate effectively … extremely effectively, clearly, concisely, convincingly. This is the most important aspect of their competence, and you don’t need a law degree to sift out the ones who are difficult to understand from the ones who say what they have to say so ordinary people – like jurors – can clearly understand. If the lawyer talks too much, however, find someone else. Lawyers must be good listeners. They need to listen to you when you’re explaining the facts of your case, why you’re hiring them, what you want for an outcome. They need to listen to the other side when the arguing gets hot-and-heavy in the courtroom, so they can respond quickly and prevent the other side from making points they should not make against you. Finally, your lawyer needs to understand people. He needs to know that most folks don’t have a new car, don’t live in a half-million dollar home, eat steak rarely if ever, and work extremely hard to make what lawyers make in a single hour! A good lawyer cares … and this is as much an element of his competence as passing the boards or having an advanced degree. Knowledge is nothing if the lawyer has no heart, because judges and juries sense the pompous pride and insincerity of lawyers who were born with silver spoons and think the rest of the world is in poverty because the rest of the world deserves what it gets. Your lawyer can be too well-dressed, for example. He or she can be too worldly, too cocksure, too high above the rest of humanity. If the lawyer you hire cannot feel the needs of others, empathize with the situation, and care for you, the members of the jury, and even (yes, even) the other side … the court will know it and subconsciously pile points against your case. Hire a lawyer who cares about people … and justice!
I cannot stress too much the importance of looking for a lawyer with soul, a man or woman who cares, who listens, who communicates effectively, and who exudes a sense of responsibility to do "what’s right", demonstrating to all the world in words and actions that there isn’t enough money in the world to turn him from the path of honesty and truth.
More than any aspect of what we lawyers do: the legal battle is a fight for Truth.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There are two kinds of lawyers – those who seek to put the truth on public record for all to see, and those who seek to hide the truth. Whatever you do, hire a lawyer who is honest! We fight with words, instead of swords and guns, yet we lawyers engage in battles that change the world … your world … either for the better or for the worse. The changes we bring about depend on what sort of people we are, what we know about life, how we feel about the needs of others, and whether we’re committed to do "what’s right". We may be hated and distrusted, yet it is our words that change and mold the law we all obey … and that won’t change, no matter how hard some people fight to oust us from your legislatures or remove us from the judicial benches of your courts. Our arguments become laws that control and direct human behavior. Legislation and litigation together form the bedrock of law. Lawyers shape and determine the laws that rule us all from cradle to grave. This responsibility should make all lawyers tremble. It should compel us to pray for greater wisdom. It should humble us to work harder for the truth in which real justice and genuine liberty are forged. It should challenge us to be better citizens, honoring our call to champion the various causes of our clients for the sake of "what’s right" – rather than what’s most profitable for ourselves.
The reason there are so many lawyer jokes is that there are far too many dishonest lawyers. If this were not true, the jokes would disappear. If lawyers truly want to change their public image, they need to clean up their own ranks … disbarring the liars, cheats, and thieves … the sharks and charlatans that bring a bad name to my profession. You absolutely, positively must hire an honest lawyer! You absolutely, positively must not hire a dishonest lawyer! He will cheat you out of your money. He will lie to you. He will lie to the court. He will lie behind your back to the other side. He will not be trusted by judge or jury. And, when you’ve lost your case at last and face a lifetime of wondering, "What happened? Why did I lose?" he will turn to you with a shrug of disinterested shoulders and tell you there was no way he could have known … when all along he knew he was leading you to certain destruction and loss.
Check references! Ask some judges before you go to court. Ask at least two or three judges whose reputation is above reproach. They know who’s honest and who’s not. It’s