The “typical” lawyer blog post at a “typical” law firm is filled with one of two things: 1. “News” of that lawyer’s recent victory for some unnamed client – with the thinly-veiled hope that you will want to hire that lawyer and the even more thinly-veiled hint that you might enjoy a similar degree of success just because you hired that lawyer; or 2. Highly technical legal information designed to impress you with that lawyer’s high level of expertise in his or her field – again with the thinly-veiled hope that you will want to hire that lawyer.
I’ll confess, I’ve written both kinds of posts. What I’ve learned though is that neither version answers the burning questions that probably led you to stumble across this page in the first place! Questions like “Can I trust this firm?”, “Will they take advantage of me?”, “Will they listen to me?”, and most importantly “How will I know the answer to any of these questions?”
So, how about an atypical approach to a blog post? As in, not normal. Unusual even. Why? Because that’s the kind of firm I work for here at Davis Miles McGuire Gardner and that’s the kind of lawyer I try to be. Atypical. So I’m going to let you in on a few secrets. A few ways you can know the answers to those burning questions – at Davis Miles or at any other firm. How? By asking the lawyer you meet with a few questions of your own and paying careful attention to the answers. Ready?
- Ask: have you handled a case just like mine before? After you tell the lawyer your story, this is a very logical and innocent question to ask. But here’s the catch: every case is different! A lawyer answering this question honestly will say “no,” but then go on to articulate how the legal principles that govern the particular area of law implicated by your story can apply to many different stories, including yours. A lawyer who “typically” answers “yes” to this question probably needs a few follow up questions, like “Would you tell me how that case turned out and how it is ‘just’ like mine?” You’re looking for confidence and competence here, not false bravado and chutzpah.
- Ask: do you have any particular expertise in this area of the law? Lawyer can’t claim to be “experts” or “specialists” unless they are certified by the Arizona State Bar as specialists. If the lawyer you meet is a certified expert or specialist, trust me, it’ll be on the business card! However, you can find out whether this particular lawyer focuses on a particular area or areas of the law. And you want to know this! Lawyers are every bit as compartmentalized as doctors these days. It’s not impossible for your podiatrist to give you medical advice about an ear ache, but wouldn’t you rather hear from an ENT doctor? In the same vein, a tax lawyer who hears your story and randomly decides to accept your personal injury or employment case just because the money looks good is probably not a good idea absent a very compelling reason.
- Ask: are you willing to put some “skin in the game” for your fees? The era of the pure billable hour method of paying an attorney is slowly dying. Many large firms around the country are starting to have “embarrassing moments” as the billing practices of their partners and associates are clearly shown to be for the firm’s benefit – not the client’s benefit. Some lawyers won’t work on contingency – and that’s okay because sometimes there is no “pot of gold” at the end of the litigation or transactional rainbow to divvy up. But, at least in litigation (the arena where I work), there can be creative ways to price attorney services. You might be able to trade a lower hourly rate for a bonus at the end based on the lawyer’s results. You might be able to negotiate a partial contingency fee or even a full contingency fee if you’re willing to pay the costs. You might be able to pay for each “phase” of the lawsuit separately. Be creative. If your lawyer is simply unwilling to even discuss the issue of fees and attempt to be creative with you, they may be either too busy, too fearful, or too “typical.” I should add that “atypical” does not mean “free” or “cheap” – but the process of determining fees should correlate to the value of what the lawyer is doing for you.
- Ask: what are the weaknesses in my case? This is the “tough love” question. No case is perfect. A good lawyer will be up front with you about the negatives in your case and can often spot many of them in the initial consultation. A lawyer who tells you about those negatives can still do a tremendous job for you – it’s just a question of realistic risk assessment. “Typical” lawyers may try to overstate the positives and understate the negatives just to get your business. While it may be nicer to hear only the good things about your case, a steady diet of “sugar” is ultimately bad for you! A lawyer who can see both sides of your situation is an effective lawyer.
- Ask: what is my case worth/what is my potential risk? What you’re looking for here is a thoughtful answer that appears to weigh the positive and negative aspects of your case, whether you are suing or being sued. Another good answer is one where the lawyer wants to research more thoroughly some of the legal issues before answering that question (and there is no obligation to hire that lawyer or any other until you’re happy with the answer). But remember: A lawyer who guarantees you an outcome is a lawyer to run from! And a lawyer who refuses to answer the question at all is not much better.
- The last question to ask isn’t for the lawyer: it’s for you, or your partner, or your spouse, or anyone else involved in the litigation with you. After the interview, Ask: what does your “gut” tell you? Is it telling you that your case is safe in the hands of someone who is focused on the solution to your problem? Is it telling you that your case is in the hands of a team of people committed to working to maintain a relationship with you in the process? If your gut says “no,” you might be in a “typical” law office. If your gut says “yes,” you might be lucky enough to have found an “atypical” lawyer.
Davis Miles McGuire Gardner is a firm filled with “atypical” lawyers. I’m thankful to work at a firm where the entire focus is on solutions and relationships. We’re happy to answer the question described above, and more. We earn our fees – not for merely existing – but because our clients see the value of the services we provide and because we deliver results. From immigration to personal injury, from business deals to divorces, from real estate to criminal defense, from employment to eminent domain, Davis Miles attorneys stand ready.
If you have questions about legal issues, please call our office at 480-733-6800 and ask to speak with Josh Carden. Mr. Carden brings with him 11 years of experience. He is a strategic interpretive replicator. He handles employment law and civil litigation. With his unique combination of compassion, patience, intelligence, and humor and commitment he will answer your questions.