Clients and lawyers should pay attention in forming a professional relationship and chose each other with care.
It is instructive for a client to consider what criteria a lawyer should use in deciding whether to take on a new client and it is instructive for a lawyer to consider what criteria a client should use in selecting a lawyer.
Forming the attorney client relationship is a very important transaction and it ought to be done with care by both the client and the lawyer. That the client is not taking care in this most important transaction to be sure that the lawyer is the right lawyer for the client’s case should give great caution to the lawyer. That the lawyer is not taking care in selecting cases or clients should give great caution to the client.
"Of course, compatibility is an elusive concept."
Different lawyers have different methods and criteria for deciding whether to take on a new case. For some, and this is unfortunate for both the client and the lawyer, the only criteria employed by the lawyer is whether the client is willing and able to pay the fee. Certainly, the willingness and ability to pay the fee is a necessary precondition for the attorney client relationship; however, it must not be the only criteria. When a lawyer is so eager to sign up a new client that nothing but the fee matters, the relationship will probably go wrong and it is likely to go wrong sooner rather than later.
The lawyer, as well as the client, must consider issues of the lawyer’s competence and experience for the task for which services are sought as well as the necessary time commitment, the resources of the client and the lawyer to complete the task and, importantly, the compatibility of the lawyer and the client to work together on the client’s case.
Of course, compatibility is an elusive concept. Volumes have been written by psychologists and popular culture writers on what makes or does not make people compatible. Like kinds can be compatible and it is cliché that opposites attract. In the attorney client relationship, there are some guidelines that may ground a client’s and a lawyer’s decision on whether they are compatible – whether the lawyer and the client are a good fit.
"Lawyers should be attentive to a client's purpose and goals in seeking professional help and clients should be careful about lawyers who are too quick to promise that the client's goals will be met whatever they may be."
A desperate client and a hungry lawyer might have an irresistible initial attraction that appears to be but really is not compatibility. A client who has already gone through two or three lawyers will probably be very glad to encounter the reassuring next lawyer who “understands” why the client was disappointed in the former lawyers. Savvy lawyers are cautious about taking a case in which there have been a number of former lawyers, where the client comes to the lawyer already dissatisfied. Clients should not engage lawyers who are so hungry for business that they do not consider factors other than the fee in choosing their cases. Hungry lawyers, however, might perform very well because they are highly motivated to do well and to have satisfied clients who spread the word about the lawyer’s fine services. It is true, also, that sometimes clients have been improperly served by former lawyers. While lawyers should be careful about engaging a client who is reasonably dissatisfied with the services of a former lawyer because the tendency to generalize the negative experience could be the prism through which the client views the new lawyer’s services. Even so, a client who has really had unsatisfactory services deserves to have a good, competent and faithful lawyer and such a lawyer can do good service for the client and for the profession of law by taking the client’s case.
Lawyers should be attentive to a client’s purpose and goals in seeking professional help and clients should be careful about lawyers who are too quick to promise that the client’s goals will be met whatever they may be. Consider the lawyer who tells a prospective client that she will recover hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for the client’s personal injury claim before the lawyer knows all of the facts. That lawyer really wants to sign up the client. The lawyer is pretty sure that there will be some recovery in the case from which to take a percentage, never mind that the recovery may be far below what is promised or suggested to induce the client to sign the lawyer’s contract. The lawyer knows that the client can be gently disappointed later. If the lawyer finds out later that the case has no merit or if it is too tough a case for the lawyer, well, there is a clause in the contract stating that the lawyer can withdraw from the case.
Another lawyer is more cautious in promising results. Sure, after listening to the client, the case looks promising but this lawyer wants to know a lot more before being specific with the client about expected results. Maybe the client will recover hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. It will be soon enough to have that evaluation after the facts and evidence are better known. Similarly, in a criminal case, one lawyer, eager to be hired, without knowing the facts or evidence, immediately and without reservation supports the client’s protestations that he did nothing wrong and agrees that charges should be immediately dismissed. Another lawyer, one who is really better equipped by experience, training and personality to do the hard work of fighting the client’s case in court, tells the client that he will have a better idea about the case after he reviews all of the evidence and researches the law.
Next time on the subject of clients selecting lawyers and lawyers selecting clients, we will look at how a client’s motives and a lawyer’s methods should affect a client’s choice of a lawyer and a lawyer’s choice of a client.
Next to come Justice, Vengeance and the Sacred Cause … .
Content prepared by Edmond McGill. © Edmond McGill, 2016
This message and the information presented here do not create or evidence an attorney-client relationship nor are they intended to convey legal advice or counsel. You should not act upon this information without seeking advice from a qualified lawyer licensed in your own state or country who actually represents you. In this regard, you may contact The McGill Law Office and then representation and advice may be given if, and only if, attorney Edmond McGill agrees to do so in a written contract signed by him.