WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE SUING OR BEING SUED
(Work in Progress)
by ELDRIGE MARVIN B. ACERON
CHOOSING A LAWYER
Somebody once said that choosing a lawyer is like choosing a gun. You get the big long AK-47s for big battles where the stakes are high and the caliber .38 for those of lesser scale where small is efficient. The comparison is quite accurate. I say "quite" because there are notable exceptions. Sometimes you may need a bazooka for the small case that has the potential of escalating to a big case. Besides, not everyone can have the luxury of having a collection of lawyers in her arsenal. Yet, the comparison emphasizes the most important consideration in choosing a lawyer: you must have the right lawyer for the job. But how do you know if you have the lawyer for the job? Here are seven basic traits that I think are important in choosing a lawyer when you're suing or being sued.
1. To begin with, you need a litigation lawyer. A litigation lawyer is one whose work is at least 80% devoted to courtroom cases. I say 80% because that means the lawyer is almost, if not totally, immersed in the litigation environment. These are the lawyers with contacts with stenographers, sheriffs, legal researchers, clerks of court, and even policemen -- the small guys who do the real work and make the case progress. It can make a lot of difference if your lawyer knows these small people.
In addition, you have to realize that litigation work is not taught in law schools. Law schools teach only laws and procedures but not technique. Technique is the key to making a case progress to victory. It involves getting the right manner of drafting pleadings, asking questions, arguing in court, in order that the judge will rule in your favor. A lawyer, even the bar topnotcher or law school valedictorian, will never learn technique unless he is immersed in litigation.
More importantly, litigation lawyers can deal with judges. A lot of judges have idiosyncrasies that need to be tolerated. Litigation lawyers who are used to that can handle situations with these judges better than non-litigation lawyers. They are less jittery, if at all, even in the face of the most obnoxious judge. So don't take chances on a corporate lawyer, get a litigation lawyer.
2. Your lawyer should know how to communicate. Litigation is all about persuasion. Persuasion rests on the skill of communication. If your lawyer can't speak or write well, he is no good. Watch her English. If her P's and F's are misplaced, get another. Ask her opinion, if you do not understand what she said. Get another. If she is able to convince you, chances are she can convince the judge. Get her.
3. Get a litigation lawyer who has handled a similar case in the past. It only takes one case to make a field of law an area of competence. Five cases of the same nature can make a master. If your lawyer has handled a similar case in the past your lawyer is familiar with the horizon surrounding your legal conflict and will be less likely to commit technical errors. She is a prized possession.
4. Your lawyer should be accessible. You should be able to see her when you need to. She should be able to respond to your phone calls and emails. The best is someone who works next door. The nearer her office is to your office, the better. Sometimes, cases can be as terrifying as a policeman knocking at your door with a warrant of arrest. Your lawyer should be reachable during such critical times.
5. Your lawyer should have time for you and your case. Your lawyer should not be too busy with other work. Otherwise, she is bound to neglect your case. Ensure that your lawyer is not taking more work than she can handle. Beware of the overworked lawyer. Their type get burned out and lose their passion for their work. They are more prone to commit mistakes because they do things in a rush. Your lawyer should only have enough in her hands a given time. If you think that se has more work than she can handle, go find another.
6. Your lawyer should be someone you can trust. Beware of lawyers who volunteer connections to broker deals with judges before they can even discuss the merits of the case. They will hit you big time and you will end up with a losing the case. Remember, even if you succeed in bribing judges, the justice system is bound to get you somewhere along the judicial hierarchy. If you have an awfully bad case, you are bound to lose no matter what. So don't trust lawyers whose primary practice is influence peddling.
7. Your lawyer should be someone you can afford. Do not get indebted to a lawyer. Your lawyer will not hesitate to drop you if you get into a situation that you are not able to pay her and she knows when to do it There are expensive lawyers and there are free lawyers. The quality of service is not necessarily linked with the price. Get someone you can afford so you will not get indebted.
(To be continued) Copyright 2001. MBAceron. All rights reserved.
Next edition: Big law firms vs. Small law firms v. Solo Practitioners