Many people seeking legal services incorrectly believe that all attorneys, by virtue of their law license, are equally capable. The law and the profession, by their mystique, create this mistaken impression. But unfortunately, for an ill-informed public, this is not the case. Legal services in family court are rarely commodities–uniform and routine. Especially now, in an economic climate where inexperienced lawyers are forced to handle divorce cases because of unavailable work in their area of expertise, the public needs to beware. Sadly, and all too frequently, I have met with people who have lost custody because of bad or unqualified lawyering. And when they finally see me it is too late to do anything about it. What are some of the warning signs?
- lawyers who fail to return your phone calls. This is inexcusable and despite what they may tell you, inappropriate no matter how busy they are.
- lawyers who don’t keep you informed about the progress of the case. You are entitled to know what is happening, if not contemporaneously, at least within a few days. Lawyers have a duty to keep you reasonably informed and the failure to do so should be a warning.
- lawyers who don’t clearly spell out their fees. You need to know up front what is expected. Lawyers who don’t clarify this are not acting appropriately. Along the same lines, lawyers that don’t send out regular bills are also acting inappropriately. You shouldn’t have to guess and if your lawyer does not clearly lay out your ongoing obligations, they should be fired.
- lawyers that are chronically unprepared. We have all seen them; the lawyers who show up to court late and are rifling through their paperwork looking for crumpled pieces of paper to give to the judge. Do you think this will instill confidence in your lawyer by the judge? Obviously not…nor should it by you.
- lawyers that don’t care about you or are insensitive to your problems. If they don’t care about your dilema, do you really think you will get the result you deserve?
- lawyers who never seem to get anywhere with the case. Some lawyers always seem to be slogging through mud, getting nowhere and just getting you dirty in the process. Consider those interminable statuses along with ever-increasing bills; and nothing ever seems to get done. No progress is a sign of incompetent lawyering.
- lawyers who continuously get pushed around by the other attorney. If your lawyer doesn’t have the gumption or self-confidence to stand up and fight for you, you need to get another lawyer.
- Irascible lawyers. Lawyers that are chronically crabby with you and everyone else for that matter, are not keepers. First you don’t deserve to be dressed down every time you speak. Handling cases is a collaboration, not a dictatorship. Next, you need to consider whether your case will end up being more contested, by virtue of your lawyers temperament. While you don’t want a pushover, a nasty provocateur does you no good either.
- lawyers who don’t employ modern technology. What does the fact that they have no e-mail tell you about them? While they don’t need to be IT specialists, they need to have some knowledge of technology to manage your case. Without it, things are not going to happen with any efficiency.
- lawyers who make you uncomfortable. There may be no specific reason, it’s just that funny feeling you get. sometimes you just need to trust your intuition. It’s right more often than you think.
Switching lawyers can be expensive and cause delay. But not switching can be tragic. Which do you prefer?