Finding a good attorney is hard. The truth of the matter is that for every good attorney who is competent, professional, knowledgeable, capable, and a good fit for you or your business, there are a handful of bad ones. Now what is a bad attorney or one who doesn’t fit well for you? The attorney can be one who doesn’t know what he is doing, who only cares about your money, who only cares about making his billables, or who just doesn’t do anything. It can also be an attorney with a different communication style from you, or one who is too busy for you. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t find out if their attorney is a good fit for them until they’re already some time into their relationship with the attorney. So how do you figure out if an attorney will be the right fit for you or not? Keep reading for some red flags in attorneys to avoid, and just remember, everyone is different, so sometimes bad attorney to you could be an amazing attorney for someone else. It is all about finding the right fit.
1. They Make Promises During Your Consultation That They Cannot Possibly Keep
A good attorney knows that nothing is guaranteed. Explaining the risks and possibilities of any transaction or litigation to your client is important. A good attorney will manage your expectations from the start because they care more about your experience with them than your money. That being said, this is not to mean good attorneys cannot promise forming or incorporating an entity for you or doing something which they can guarantee with certainty, it means good attorneys don’t promise they can get you a certain plea deal or negotiate a certain contract price, because in reality they do not know for sure. Often times good attorneys will give examples of things they have been able to do in the past for their clients or give an idea of what they think they can do, but they do not make guarantees for things they cannot control. An example would be a personal injury attorney who promises he can get you $X if you retain him right now. Ultimately, he could not possibly know how much, if anything, you can get. Sometimes new information comes out or the law changes and what an attorney once thought was a great claim becomes worthless. If you are getting promises about legal issues with variable that your attorney cannot control, try looking for someone else.
2. They Do Not Listen to You
Good attorneys care about what their clients want and get to know their clients. They care about achieving the client’s goals and learning about their clients. If attorneys do not take the time to learn about you and your situation, then they cannot possibly represent their clients to the best of their ability. For example, if an attorney does not learn about her client’s business, then she may not even know the correct body of law governing her client’s transaction. She may draft an entire contract governed by the common law when her client deals in the sale of good and the UCC really governs. Alternatively, if a criminal defense attorney did not know that their client is the breadwinner for their household, the attorney may not even think to ask about work release. The best attorneys take time to listen to what you want and learn about you so that they can advocate for you to the best of their abilities. As a client you don’t know what you don’t know, so the more an attorney listen to what you want to accomplish and who you are, the more options they can give you for achieving your goals in the best way possible for you.
3. They Do Not Communicate the Way You Want
This is a little tricky to figure out before hiring an attorney, but you can always ask. If you are not an email person, but your attorney primarily corresponds via email, then that would be a problem. Alternatively, if you hate talking on the phone, then you’ll be annoyed if the attorney’s office is constantly calling you. Figuring out how an attorney will communicate with you is important and something you can ask about during your initial consultation. You should also ask about the frequency of communication. Some attorneys do the consult, do their work, then pop either when they have questions or when the work is done; however, others involve their clients in the process more. Different areas of law can affect the frequency with which clients communicate with their attorney, but overall it is important to manage expectations about the communications you expect and how frequently you expect them. Typically, in criminal defense, attorneys reach out when there is news to share, but some clients prefer regular check-ins to make sure that they are on top of everything. Contrastingly, corporate attorneys may check in more regularly with their clients so that the client can make business decisions, while some clients may prefer to speak weekly or biweekly or to defer to the attorney on minor issues. Clarifying how your attorney communicates can prevent disappointment in the future.
4. They Do Not Spend Time Understanding You or Your Business
As described in No. 2, good attorneys take the time to get to know you and/or your business. It is important for attorneys to know you as a person to some extent or to know about your business and how it works so that we can best represent you or your business. We can only advocate for you to the extent that we know not only your goals but you and/or your business. For example, during a consultation for a business, a good attorney will ask about what the business is, how the business works, its history, and what its goals are. As another example, during a consultation for a criminal matter, a good attorney will ask you age, criminal history, find out about your version of what happened, and generally get to know you.
5. They Do Not Respect Your Time.
Everyone is busy, but a good attorney will respect your time. If you are getting rescheduled more than once or twice for your consult, if the attorney is running late and does not call or text, if the attorney cut your consult off early, then they are not respecting your time. Things happen and people get late or tied up, but a good attorney will respect you and your time enough to communicate to you whether they need to reschedule or whether they are running later. Also, while consults cannot be for unlimited time, they will allow you the opportunity to continue your consult past a certain time, possibly for a fee. It is common for attorneys to offer a half hour free consult, then to start billing hourly thereafter. It may be frustrating to think that part of the consult is paid, but it is the attorney respecting your time while allowing you to respect theirs. They are giving you the opportunity to consult with them past the time they are willing to give you for free at your discretion so that you don’t feel like you don’t get a fair chance to speak before retaining your attorney. Sometimes life happens and inevitably someone may inconvenience you for your time, but a good attorney is generally cognizant of your time and tries to extend courtesy and mitigate the inconvenience to you as much as possible.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that this article is for purely educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or tax advice.