Choosing a lawyer is one of the most important decisions you may ever be forced to make. No really, I’m serious. It’s probably not something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but the minute that you realize that you need a lawyer, chances are very good that something dramatically bad has happened and you are in dire need of help. Who you pick will have big impact on how your life goes from that point forward. I once had a very organized client send me a list of questions that I thought was very thorough and insightful. So, here the questions are, along with my answers to them.
1. How many years have you been practicing law?
I received my law degree in 1997, so as of this writing, almost 13 years.
2. What types of cases do you usually take on and what types of cases do you feel most passionate about?
I am primarily a litigator. That means I go to court and argue on people’s behalf, write briefs and motions, take depositions, interview witnesses, and put together cases to try to a jury. Litigation can take many forms, from criminal litigation to divorce and family law to bankruptcy. Litigation can happen in Federal Court and State Court and Municipal Court. I am comfortable in all of these venues. As for what I feel most passionate about, that’s a tougher question. What I really enjoy is helping people, so whether it’s a run of the mill case that I’ve handled a hundred times before, or an intricate, complex civil suit that presents a host of new issues, if I feel like I’m really able to help a person, that’s what makes me smile.
3. What percentage of your cases have settled out of court and what percentage have gone to trial?
Most cases settle out of court. That’s just a fact of life. If every case went to trial, we’d need a thousand times more courts than we have now. I would, however, characterize myself as an active litigator, meaning I’m not afraid of the court room and in fact feel some kind of exhilaration in going to court and making my case. I enjoy the courtroom the way I think some people enjoy bungee jumping. To me, it’s a huge rush. So, if I have a client that wants to go to trial, I am more than happy to accommodate. That being said, I will always advise my client on the options available to them, through settlement or trial. Sometimes a person wants to go to trial, but the better course is a favorable settlement. Ultimately I leave it up to my client, but I’ll make sure my client is informed.
4. Do you prefer to negotiate and settle or fight it out in court?
In a word, yes. In every case I do all of these things. I always negotiate the best possible settlement that I can get the other side to offer, and if it isn’t good enough I fight the case in court. I don’t look at negotiating and fighting as opposites. I see negotiation as the first step for fighting it out in court. The two proceed together, and if you can’t reach the settlement you want, you simply go to court.
5. Will you represent me if I deicide to appeal the trial court’s ruling?
Absolutely, unless you decide to hire someone else. I am as comfortable and skilled in the appellate courts as I am in the trial court. I’ve handled several appellate cases and won some fairly major ones. I feel that my clients get a cost savings when they appeal through me because I’m already familiar with the case and the issues involved. There are reasons why you might need to switch lawyers for an appeal, and I always provide that information before they decide to appeal with me.
6. What expertise can you bring to my case?
I’ve spent my entire legal career focusing on the art of litigation. I’ve spent years as a criminal defense attorney. I’ve worked in a giant civil litigation law firm. I spent a few years specializing in only complex and unusual litigation cases. My expertise is in the elaborate chess game that is a court case. Starting from the initial and strategizing, all the way through negotiation, argument, motions, and eventually trial, I’ve spent my career learning to be adept at posturing a court case for maximum benefit to my client.
7. Will you personally handling my case?
As of right now, yes I will. If you hire me, you’ll get me. I do have assistants and paralegals who also may work on your case, but I supervise everything that goes on in my office. Our office is in a growth period right now, and it is possible that other lawyers may come to have primary responsibility for some cases, but it is my ongoing commitment to my clients to personally supervise everything that goes on.
8. Do you truly have the time to take on my case and give it your full attention?
I don’t take on a case unless I have the time to devote to it. This would be a good time to point out that there’s another question lurking within this one. The only thing a lawyer has to sell is his time, so it is also true that how much time a lawyer has to spend on a case may depend somewhat on how much money a client wishes to spend on the lawyer. In an ideal world – think O.J.’s $14 million defense – a single client can keep an entire law firm busy for 3 years without needing a single other client. O.J. absolutely got the undivided attention of his lawyers. Most people, though, have to share their lawyers with others. I always try to ask my clients what their budget is and then I try to explain to them how much legal work they can get with that budget. I work out with my clients a plan of action that fits within their budget and maximizes their goals.
9. How will we meet from time to time?
I’m willing to meet with clients in almost any fashion that they are comfortable with. I’m happy to have client’s sit with me in my office. But I’m equally willing to consult over the phone or e-mail. I even have a Facebook account for my clients and we can send private e-mails there.
10. When can I next expect to hear from you and how will you update me about my case? What is your preferred method of communication?
Court cases don’t happen along a set schedule. Sometimes things happen very quickly, and other times a couple of months can go by where nothing happens. As a general rule, anytime something even marginally significant happens, I will let you know. This is particularly true if you have an e-mail account so that I can jot off a quick note to you. I will also copy you on all but the most insignificant documents in your case, particularly if you’re able to accept them as a scanned e-mail. One of the important lessons that I learned in law school was that the chief complaint people have about their lawyers is lack of communication. I’ve always made it my policy to avoid that trap.
11. How can I contact you when I have questions or concerns or emergencies?
I’m happy to receive your phone call or your e-mail or your Facebook message. I give my clients my cell phone. The only limit I set on communication is that I don’t answer the phone when I’m sleeping. I will however return your call promptly, usually within 24 hours, although sometimes I am exceptionally busy and it takes longer.
12. May I request copies of all correspondence you send or receive on my behalf? Will you automatically send correspondence to me? Electronically or through traditional mail?
The answer is yes, if you request all copies of correspondence sent and received you will get them. Obviously, however, the more you ask of a lawyer, the more expense you will incur. As a general rule (and usually at no charge) I will send along any correspondence I feel is significant or important to my clients. If my clients are willing to accept those electronically, I prefer to send it that way because it’s instantaneous.
13. What do you expect of me as your client?
This is maybe the best question anyone’s ever asked. How you interact with your lawyer can have a big impact on how your case turns out. I prefer my clients to be honest with me about their goals and about the facts of their case. It’s helpful if the client is realistic about what’s possible and also self-aware about their own foibles. Patience is a virtue and I always appreciate clients that understand that legal action takes time. Trust is also important, although I don’t expect it to be given without being earned. A lot of times things happen quickly in a legal case and there isn’t time to full, consult with one’s client before action has to be taken. I need my clients to trust in my skill and judgment and to believe that I understand what they need, so that if I have to do something quickly for them they can feel okay with that.
14. What can I expect from you as my attorney?
I care a whole lot about doing a good job. I can’t promise perfect results, nor can I guarantee you’ll get exactly what you’re hoping for. But you can expect me to get the very best that I can give. It is my personal philosophy to listen closely to what my client’s goals are and to try to accomplish those goals. I like to do legal research, so I work pretty hard to uncover any possible avenues of success that might be available in any case. I treat each case as unique and I will custom design the strategy for each and every one. You can expect me to be available to answer your questions, particularly if you use e-mail. You can expect me to be on your side, because that’s my job.
15. Do you work on retainer? Is there an hourly rate? What happens when my retainer runs out?
There are a number of different ways that lawyers accept fees. For some services lawyers will charge flat fees. For others they bill by the hour. I am open to structuring a fee agreement to meet my client’s needs. I will usually inquire of my client what their budget is and try to come up with a litigation plan that fits within their budget. In some of my cases, I work on an hourly basis. In others I work on a single fee basis. Every case is different, and some cases I can’t do on a flat fee basis, and some cases aren’t appropriate for an hourly billing. But I’m willing to talk to my clients about what their needs are and what their budget is and try to work out an arrangement if there’s any way at all to do it.
16. What hourly rate will you charge when I call or e-mail with your staff? Are there any hidden costs I should be aware of such as filing fees or additional costs related to photo copies or travel?
You can speak to my staff for free. The only exception would be if you were working on something with a paralegal. You might incur paralegal billing for that. I don’t charge for photo copies unless I have to send the document out to Kinko’s, and then I just bill you what Kinko’s bills me. Some cases do have filing fees and I would pass those along.
As for travel, as I mentioned before, all a lawyer has to sell is his time, and time spent traveling on one person’s case is often time that can’t be spent on other cases. That being said, I do have a personal philosophy of trying to take other work with me when I’m traveling. For example, if I have to drive an hour to a court hearing, I will take my Dictaphone and attempt to dictate letters and memos while I’m driving so that I don’t have to bill the entire travel time to one client but can use the time productively. Also, it is my general practice not to bill people for short e-mails or phone calls, for example if someone is asking a simple question about when their next court date is or if a document is done yet. If a phone call or e-mail becomes substantive and I have to think about the response then I would bill for that.
17. Can I have a payment plan?
Yes and no. I like to work with people as much as possible to help them afford the work I do, but it’s important to understand that very often a legal case will wrap up quickly, with significant effort, before even a few payments are made. I hate to have to say this, but a lot of people will default on payments under those circumstances. It’s not like buying a car where the car company can repossess the vehicle. Once the work is done, it’s done, and if the client then doesn’t pay, there’s very little a lawyer can do about it. So, I try to balance the situation. What I typically ask for is a significant amount of retainer up front, although I do not necessarily require a deposit sufficient to cover the entire case. Once the deposit is made, I will then allow the person to make payments. I try to structure the payment plan so that it coincides with the anticipated work in the case. In other words, so the fee is paid by the time the case is done. In other situations, where the legal work is not urgent, I may ask a person to make payments until a sufficient retainer is posted, and then proceed with the work. The most important thing to take away is that I will try to work with people, as long as people try to work with me.
If you have any additional questions, please post them on this blog and I will try to answer them.