I’ve posted on this topic before, but lately it seems like I’m getting lots of calls from people who are dissatisfied with their attorneys. This is so important I felt like I should address it again. Make sure you hire the right lawyer initially. Making a mistake can be costly:
It seems like almost every week I get a call from someone who was injured in an accident, hired a lawyer, and now wants to fire his lawyer and hire me. The most common reason people give for wanting to change lawyers is lack of communication. They tell me stories of trying for weeks to speak to their lawyers without success. They leave messages and speak to case managers, legal assistants, and paralegals. They even send letters, but they never hear back from their attorneys.
This is really a shame because the lawyer being fired might be an excellent advocate, but without good communication, the attorney-client relationship can suffer irreparable harm. I understand why, sometimes, there are lapses in communication between lawyers and their clients. Let’s face it; attorneys are busy, and when we get a message to call a client back, it’s easy to shuffle that to the bottom of our to-do list and focus our attention on deadlines and other pressing matters. After a while, the message gets lost or it’s too late to call back. I don’t believe such lapses in communication are ever acceptable. I expect better from my service providers and my clients deserve better from me. In my office, we’ve instituted a twenty-four-hour call back policy. We no longer give the attorneys messages to return a client’s call. Instead, when a client calls to speak to the attorney, he is immediately given a time slot on his lawyer’s calendar within the next twenty-four business hours. When the call is on the lawyer’s calendar, it can’t be ignored or deferred, and when I or any lawyer in my firm is speaking to a client, that client gets 100 percent of our attention.
While lack of communication is the most common reason clients give for wanting to change lawyers, other reasons include loss of confidence, personality conflict, pressure to act against the client’s wishes, and more. Most of these problems could have been avoided if the client had been more careful in selecting a lawyer in the first place. Unfortunately, once the lawyer is hired, consequences result from changing your representation.
When I get a call from someone who wants to fire his lawyer and hire me, I try to find out the reason for his dissatisfaction. I explain to him that changing lawyers in the middle of the process can harm his claim in a number of ways. First, the insurance company notes that the lawyer changed, and it tries to use that to undermine the claim. Second, even if you fire your first attorney, you may owe her an attorney fee, depending on the language of your fee agreement. If you have to pay your original attorney and your replacement attorney at the conclusion of your claim, that generally results in less money for you.
In situations like this, I urge the injured person to try to work things out with his original lawyer. Often a face-to-face meeting is all it takes to get things back on track and assure the client that his interests are being protected. Sometimes, however, the damage to the relationship is too severe, or the attorney is simply unresponsive to the client’s requests. In those cases, I will agree to take over the representation if the case is strong, and I try to mitigate the harm resulting from having multiple attorneys on the case.
MAKING SURE IT’S A GOOD FIT
The attorney-client relationship can be an intensely personal one, and it can continue for years. You may need to tell your lawyer some unpleasant or secret things about yourself, and you may need to hear difficult truths from him during the course of your case. There is simply no substitute for a face-to-face meeting to help you find the right lawyer for you. I suggest that you meet with several attorneys before making a final decision. It always amazes me that people research and shop for months before buying a new TV or dishwasher, but they hire the first lawyer they meet.
Meet with several lawyers to see who feels like a good fit. Do they listen to you and understand what you hope to accomplish? Do they understand what you and your family are going through? Can they explain in detail how the process will go, and can they answer all of your questions?
When I was in law school, I used to think it was the personal injury lawyer’s job to get the most money possible in every single case. Now, having worked with thousands of clients over twenty years, I know that different clients have different needs. Some do want to maximize their financial recovery, and a good lawyer can help them do that. Others want to get the process done quickly and without any further disruption of their lives. Some want a dangerous condition remedied or a dangerous practice stopped. Still others want an apology-often the most difficult outcome to achieve.
The point is that a good lawyer will listen to you and get to know you as a person. Remember, when you hire a lawyer, he is working for you-not the other way around. If he doesn’t respect your needs and your goals, you need to find a different lawyer.