Allow me to begin by saying that do-it-yourself lawyering has its limits. Surely, you can draft contracts on your own, you can survive gruesome negotiations with your business clients, you can settle a marital dispute among yourselves but when the need to come to court arises, you need to get a lawyer.
Expenses will be incurred, professional fees will have to be paid and the usually lengthy process will have to be endured. More often than not, the costs of resolving a problem are far greater than the costs of preventing the problem. Prevention, as they say, is always better than cure. So hire a lawyer and hire a good one.
The "practice of law" is loosely defined as ministering to the legal needs of another person by the application of legal principles and knowledge by a person trained in the law. By this definition however, a paralegal or even a secretary who has knowledge of the laws, who has been "trained" by the sheer fact of having been employed for a period of time in a law firm, is considered engaged in the practice of law.
When finding a lawyer therefore, look for a "qualified" lawyer. Meaning, be sure that your lawyer has successfully completed his law course, has successfully passed the bar examinations and is licensed to practice in the very jurisdiction where a particular legal relief is asked for. When facing a legal dispute, the last thing you need is a bogus lawyer. It is perfectly ethical to ask for a lawyer license before you even begin to share your innermost secrets with them. Normally though, they would hang their certifications on the wall.
Every qualified lawyer has his own expertise. He may be an expert in any one of the following categories of law: international law, labor law, civil law, taxation law, litigation, or criminal law. These are the major categories. Thus, you may hear of a litigation lawyer or an immigration lawyer. Note however, that lawyers' specializations are "acquired" through experience, not simply because they think they are great at it.
This is one aspect of lawyering where a young, inexperienced lawyer can actually get ahead of an experienced one. Young lawyers are usually vibrant, supportive and sympathetic. They tend to treat their clients like their babies. They take care of every little detail, even the unimportant ones. But this exactly is how paying clients want to be treated. Clients tend to feel that they are getting their money's worth with the kind of attention they are getting.
The personal qualities to look for in a lawyer depend greatly on the kind of client you are. If you are the no-nonsense type, you may prefer to hire an older, retirable lawyer. These types of lawyer are less interested in what you have to say. Sometimes, they are not even interested in what they have to say. Lawyering has become a routine for them, much like brushing their teeth in the morning. But their experience is impeccable. Their strategies are tried and tested so your chance at winning your case is considerably high if you get them.
The credibility of a lawyer may be seen in several contexts. It can mean lack of a bad reputation. It can be built on charisma coupled with referrals from past satisfied clients. It can be destroyed by the lawyer himself, as when he gives a legal advice and overturns his own legal opinion without cushioning the effects. To be sure, no lawyer can ever get clients if he is not believable and trustworthy.
So you now have a qualified, expert and credible lawyer having the personal qualities you look for. The next thing to consider is whether that lawyer is available to attend to your problem. More often than not, your lawyer will say that he is willing, able and happy to assist you. Behold, he said the same thing to several others this morning, and last week, and the week before that. The point is, a lawyer can only do so much. He can't be attending hearings all at the same time. He would probably resort to cancelling or rescheduling hearings and important meetings to make ends meet. If your chosen lawyer has a law firm, there will certainly be other lawyers who can attend to you in case he is not available. You will find this acceptable but not until your case has been reassigned from one hand to another.
Having a "professional" lawyer is so much different from a having a lawyer who managed to "appear" professional. They say that lawyering is 80% representation. The representation begins when you first meet your client. A lawyer would normally give you the "lawyer look"--- wears a suit, clean-cut, drives a black luxury car, and brings a suit case.
This, however, is not what defines professionalism. Professionalism means that your lawyer does attend to your needs, makes his research, beats the deadlines, and returns your phone calls. So do not be fooled by the lawyer-look alone. It would be great if your lawyer can pull it off with the lawyer look and the genuine professionalism though.
Please refer to Part-1 of this 2-part article to read about the role of your lawyer and why it is important to have a strong lawyer-client working relationship with your attorney.
The following points will add to developing a strong work relationship with your lawyer and lead you to more successful results in your lawsuit.
As soon as you hire your lawyer, tell him or her everything that is related to your case and provide him or her with every relevant document, even those facts and details that you think are damaging to your case. Lawyers have been trained to sift and sort through the information you provide and determine what information is useful for your case and what isn't. Every fact and detail could be crucial to your case. Facts which may not seem important to you may have serious legal consequences. Your lawyer might be able to use a fact or a document you thought was unimportant as the basis for a creative legal argument. And if something might harm your case, your lawyer will have plenty of time to prepare defensive maneuvers.
This factor alone will certainly damage the relationship between you and your lawyer and almost always hurt your case - that is if your response is of an irresponsible nature. Lawyers often have to work under very tight deadlines. Your prompt response to your lawyer's requests will insure those deadlines are met and your case is flowing smoothly. Your prompt response will also give your lawyer enough time to go over your information and better prepare his or her next step. If you are not able to respond quickly for one reason or another, let your lawyer know immediately. Your lawyer might be able to get an extension of time from your opponent or the court, or rearrange other matters to accommodate the delay.
During the course of your case, your lawyer will ask you for particular documents or certain facts relevant to your lawsuit. Instead of making your lawyer hunt down those details, remember that you're the one who is undertaking this legal action. In most instances you have much easier access to the information relevant to your case than any one else. By cooperating with your lawyer in gathering the important details for winning your case, you will not only help your situation, but have your lawyer spend less time, which will reduce your legal cost.
At a beginning of a lawsuit, your lawyer may ask you to write down a summary of events leading up to the lawsuit. Make sure that what you write is extremely accurate - only known facts. Your lawyer will base your claims and defenses on this information.
Always remember that your attorney's time is your money. Better prepared you are, less money your legal matter will cost you. When you meet with your lawyer, have with you already prepared written summary or detailed notes outlining your problem or questions; bring copies of all documents, letters and other correspondence relating to your case. Also, provide your lawyer with a list of all names, addresses, and telephone numbers of persons involved in the case. This will avoid unnecessary delays. Be as brief as possible in all interviews with your lawyer, and stick to business. At the rate that you are charged for calls and conferences, socializing gets very expensive.
Your lawyer can work only with the information that you provide him or her with. Failure to keep your lawyer updated with information about any new developments relevant to your case can be disastrous to your final outcome. Tell your lawyer immediately of changes or new information that might affect your case. On the same note, holding back information can as well prevent your lawyer from obtaining your desired results. That's why it is very important for you to be truthful and complete about the facts of your situation.
Keep Your Schedule Flexible
There are certain legal events in which you must participate. Very often these events are scheduled weeks or even months in advance. Most of these events can be rescheduled to accommodate your schedule only if your lawyer knows in advance. But, be prepared to change your plans if you must because sometimes a judge may insist on holding the scheduled meeting whether your schedule permits or not.
- Take your lawyer's legal advice seriously. When an attorney gives legal advice, the attorney may be liable for malpractice if the advice is wrong. For that reason attorneys are hesitant to give legal advice and expose themselves to liability without first checking the most current legal facts. And that takes time. That's why they charge a fee for legal advice because they give you facts and not an opinion. So when your lawyer gives you legal advice relevant to your legal issue, you better follow up on it because it's a real deal.
- Many legal problems cannot be explained simply. We live in a complex society with an extremely complex legal system. So if you don't understand something that your lawyer says, don't just take it as is - ask for an explanation. Maybe you need to ask your lawyer to explain it with a non-legal jargon.
- Respect your attorney's time. Avoid phoning repeatedly about every single question that comes on your mind. First of all you will pay for the time spent on the phone. Second, your lawyer has other clients who require attention too. So, it would be in your best interest and is usually more cost-effective to ask several questions at a time, rather than calling each time a question arise