It pays to know what kind of lawyers you don’t want to represent you. You’re all set to hire a lawyer, and you think you may have found the right person for you. Wait one more moment. Let me draw you a picture of some characters in the legal profession whom you should avoid.
- File away the disorganized mess. “Hi, my name is Joe Mess, Esq. Welcome to the heart of the beast. Oops, careful there…step right over that box of exhibits from 1994.” Joe holds out a sweaty palm for a handshake while positioning his feet around the boxes on the office floor. As he slowly retreats behind the gray dust-sheeted brown 1970s desk, Joe points you to a stained looking blue office chair dangling slightly to the left. You manage to find a semi-comfortable position using a box labeled “microfiche” to steady your leg, and raise that side of your body slightly to accommodate the crooked chair. Joe rifles through a pile of papers on his desk for a coffee-stained yellow legal pad and begins the interview. “What brings you in?” he says, his facial expression that of a loyal, but mildly senile beagle. You begin to explain your situation, and you notice that Joe is focused on a spot on the wall above your head. You try desperately to peek up there and make sure nothing is about to attack, without appearing too obvious. He does not notice. You trail off mid-sentence. He doesn’t notice that either. A few awkward moments of silence pass, and then Joe coughs and tells you his fee for divorce is $5,000 and if you would like he can mail you a retainer agreement once his secretary is back from vacation.
- Put a Leash on the Rabid Dog. As you approach the office, the sound of shouting pierces your ears. “I told you Carol, not to put this much cream in the @#$&*) coffee! I can’t stand it!” As you enter, he turns, a sickly red-faced frown appearing as eyes question your relevance. Carol rises nervously, and rushes to welcome you to the office under the glaring, over-extended pupils of her boss. She has you fill out a form while the Rabid Dog skulks back to his lair, a trail of sulphur in his wake. When you are led back to the lair, you note it is stark and bare, coffee stains the primary decorative item, and the slight hint of cigarette smoke still lingering in the air. He barks out, “What’s the problem?” You stammer out your issues as quickly as possible. He sits back, arms folded. “That’ll be $5,000. I’ll fix it, just give me a check…I’ll tear their heads off for you. You want a pit bull, you got yourself a pit bull!” Maybe…but a rabid dog will turn on its owner too. Leash it up.
- Sponge up the Self-Absorbed. Every sentence that this lawyer says begins with the letter “I”, except for “You will pay me.” The suit may cost $5,000, the pinkie ring $10,000, and the $300 bottle of scotch on their desk may look delicious…but remember who is paying for it all. You are. The self-absorbed lawyer is, without a doubt, the basis of much of the large volume of lawyer jokes available on the Internet. These jokes are funny, if the punch line isn’t “And you paid him.”
- Put a Pin in the Bloated Big Firm Lawyer. Fact is, larger law firms have had a rough couple of years. Some of the big ones have closed down or laid off a ton of their lawyers because they couldn’t afford to drive the Titanic any further toward the glacier. The future of law, I believe, is smaller and mid-sized firms providing for the legal needs of individuals, families, and small to mid-sized businesses. Corporate entities like Coke and Pepsi need a big firm to keep them afloat. But for you, the bloated costs of running a ship like that will be passed on to you. You may think you are doing yourself a favor hiring a big-name, big-size law firm…and in some cases, if you have found a lawyer within them that is just the cat’s meow, you might be right. But for name recognition alone, you will find that smaller firms often do excellent, high quality work at less inflated prices.
- Unhand the Manipulator. The greasy feel of his handshake leaves a small oil slick on your palm. He grins maniacally at you, asking for every detail of your spouse’s infidelity. “I’ll get him! The monster!” he cackles with glee, while running your credit card. But then…silence. For approximately a month. Then he shows up and apologizes, practically with flowers in hand, like an errant boyfriend from your twenties. “I’ll get him! The monster!” he says, then….silence. You get a court notice. You show up and find out something called a Case Management Conference is happening that didn’t have to happen. Your lawyer shows up late, tells the judge an interesting tale regarding a flat tire and saving a nun from a traffic mishap. Some whispered events take place, and before you know it you are out the door. “Don’t worry! I’ll get him! The monster!” he says….winking and grinning like Bilbo Baggins. And then….you guessed it…silence. It goes on like this. How many times will you believe his excuses?
All of these caricatures are sadly based on real stories people have told me about attorneys they hired, spent a lot of money on, lost a lot of money to, and were dissatisfied with. Not all lawyers are the stuff of lawyer jokes, but if you have found one that is a textbook case of mess, cut your losses and find another one fast.
–Excerpted from Lynda Hinkle’s book, Breaking Up: Finding and Working with a New Jersey Divorce Attorney available on Amazon.com
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The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.