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Vol. 2009-10 | October, 2009

Lawyer Selection – No Beauty Contest

Lawyer selection is no beauty contest; while appearance is important, good looks are not! Legal cases, unlike beauty contests, are won by good facts, hard work and good experience! Litigation costs time, emotion, and money. Each of these elements is also essential to a good attorney-client relationship, and cannot be withheld or doled out in miserly fashion.

The lawyer you select to represent you actually speaks for you when you may not, cannot; or should not. He or she must first fully understand your facts and claims, appreciate your position, detriment, loss, or harm and, even if not wholly sympathetic or compassionate, must be intellectually understanding of your problem. These are basic, essential qualities of a good lawyer, whether in a civil or criminal action, business or professional matter, or involving family law (divorce, support and custody), personal injury and property damage, real estate contract and property rights, or probate (name change, guardianship or death).

The attorney should answer questions patiently, clearly, and to your satisfaction. And, if during your first interview of your proposed counsel you cannot sense these qualities and do not feel completely comfortable in confiding in this attorney, move on and look for another listing in the local telephone directory or bar listings!

Perhaps the best source for finding an Attorney is by referral from a family member or friend who has had good experiences with a specific individual or firm. Before you meet, it is strongly urged that you prepare a chronology – a short, written statement of the pertinent facts of your case or claims before you call for an appointment or interview. This will afford the Attorney an opportunity to assess whether the case has merit under the laws applicable. It will also permit the lawyer to check whether the claims are being brought timely; within applicable statutes of limitations which require filing a claim or lawsuit within a prescribed time limit, whether one or two or more years, as applicable under the laws of your state or federal jurisdiction.

During your initial interview, permit the Attorney to become acquainted with you and the facts of your case. Ask whether the lawyer has handled a case like this before, and what his or her success rate has been? Also ask whether the lawyer has the time and interest to devote to this case; do the facts presented appear to have sufficient merit to warrant the intellectual effort and physical enthusiasm required? Will he or she accept this case? What are the timelines for this type of case; how long will it take for resolution, either by settlement, mediation or litigation? Is arbitration mandated by the contract terms or is it an alternative to litigation? What are the differences in cost to the client? And, what has been the temperament of judges, jurors, or arbitrators in your community to administer fair, if not fully, generous awards or settlements?

Next, but equally important, is the question of the basis upon which this attorney will consider the case, whether on a contingency, frequently called a “percentage” case, where the attorney’s fees are based on a percentage of the results achieved? Or, will the lawyer require payment of fees by the client, in advance, as a retainer? If so, what are the hourly rates, and what are the total estimated case fees, expenses or costs? Itemize them whenever possible.

If the Client and Attorney agree, get it in writing!!! Never conclude an agreement or any contract verbally; insist on a written agreement, even if it is only in letter form. Be certain all of the terms of agreement are clearly stated, that you have read them carefully and understand them, and then and only then, sign. But, immediately obtain and secure a copy of the entire signed document for your files.

If you forget any or all of these essential elements, you may have hired an aspiring beauty queen (or king), but lost the contest even before the judging begins!!!

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”
Mark Twain

AUTHOR / EDITOR: J. NORMAN STARK is an Attorney-at-Law, a Registered Architect, (AIA, NCARB) Registered Landscape Architect, Interior Designer, Planner and Senior Appraiser (ASA), admitted to practice law before the Bar of Ohio, the US District Courts, Ohio and Illinois (Central Dist.), the US Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. He is a Mediator, Arbitrator and Litigator with experience in Business, Construction Law, and Public Works, and with additional experience in Real Estate, Construction Attorney (Legal Project and Crisis Management), and as an Expert Witness (Forensic Architect). His office is in Cleveland, Ohio.