As a client, you want help. As a lawyer, I want to help you. So why doesn’t every lawyer-client relationship result in a perfect fit? As with any human relationship, there are a few things that can stand in the way of a good match. For lawyer-client relationships, I consider the following topics of primary importance:
Expectations: Lawyers have a certain expectation as to how the client should act, and clients have their expectations on how lawyers should behave. As with any relationship, having appropriate expectations is key for all concerned.
Have you ever been involved in a lawsuit before? Many people are shocked and surprised at how our legal system actually operates. It is slightly less efficient than Congress. A lawsuit is like the old roach motel commercial, your suit can go in, but it can’t get out. Well, eventually it can, but not in any reasonable amount of time.
So lawyers need to help clients have proper expectations about their case. As my partner, Stewart Albertson likes to say: “A lawsuit is a marathon, not a sprint.” Get ready to run for a long while. But lawyers aren’t always good at setting expectations. We are familiar with the slow legal system so a case that takes two to three years to resolve is normal to us; whereas an uninitiated client may find that amount of time outrageous.
And clients, in turn, need to face up to the reality that the wheels of justice turn slowly. Your case is no exception. While the advent of email, smart phones, and Facebook may let you operate in many ways at light speed, our judicial system doesn’t work that way.
The bottom line: be a wary traveler. Know what you’re getting yourself into before going down the lawsuit path. Not every lawsuit can be avoided, but believing that a lawsuit will be resolved quickly is an unreasonable expectation—no matter how outstanding your lawyer is.
Personality: Not every lawyer is right for every client (and vice versa). You need to feel that your lawyer has your best interest at heart and will take your cause on as his or her own. Different people have different ways of showing their dedication to your cause. And different people have different ways to give and receive information.
For example, a client who is reserved and logical may not appreciate a lawyer who is loud and energetic. Or a gregarious, creative client may not have patience with a quiet, deliberate attorney. Some personality types fit together better than others. This doesn’t mean that the lawyer or client is bad, it’s just a personality fit, it either works or it doesn’t.
The bottom line: Finding the right personality fit, someone you are comfortable with is vitally important. You’re stuck with your case for the long haul, so you should be comfortable with your lawyer.
Follow-through: Lawyers don’t have the best reputations when it comes to consistent follow-through on cases. Most lawyers have more than one case in their office, so it can be difficult to give individual attention to each case, especially since multiple cases can flare up at the same time. But it is the lawyer’s job to manage his or her case load so that each client receives appropriate attention at the appropriate time.
Clients should know that cases ebb and flow (they have busy times and slow times). Most cases don’t need constant action every day or even every week.
Every person, however, has different expectations as to the amount of attention they or their case should receive, and every lawyer has a different capacity to be attentive.
The bottom line: Discuss the amount of follow-through you expect from your lawyer and have him or her explain how he works to keep clients informed on their case.
Results: Wouldn’t it be great if you could hire a lawyer for a guaranteed win in your case? That would be one expensive lawyer (even more expensive than the typical lawyer). The truth is you can never hire an attorney to guarantee a win on your case. And any lawyer who says he or she never lost a case (especially never lost a trial) hasn’t tried very many cases—if any at all.
You hire a lawyer to provide strong, experienced counsel on your case and many times, that leads to a win. But that’s out of your control and out of the lawyers control as well. Judges and juries make decisions. The lawyer’s job is to fight hard, write well, and argue persuasively for your cause. If you receive this type of representation, then you have a good result.
The bottom line: You don’t pay for results, you pay for thorough preparation, a good fight and hard work. We all hope that equals a good result and oftentimes it does.
The better fit you have with your lawyer, the better chance you have to be successful in your case because you and your lawyer’s definition of success will be aligned.