Emerald City Legal Services
An attorney/client relationship is a partnership, so personality is important; your lawyer has to be approachable. You will be depending on your lawyer’s advice, and they need to understand your issues to represent you well, so you need to be feel comfortable and able to talk easily to them, and they should be accessible and able to explain things without talking ‘down’ to you. But most lawyers don’t interact with their clients; client phone calls and emails go through their paralegals who run ‘interference’ for the attorney. So if your attorney is not accessible, that’s not good for a strong attorney/client relationship.
Make Sure Your Lawyer
Lawyer Style: I am an assertive, take the initiative, type of lawyer. I’m not the passive aggressive, or just plain passive, lawyer who doesn’t want to make anyone angry or hurt anyone’s feelings kind of lawyer (which we have a lot of in Seattle). A lawyer is supposed to be a zealous advocate for their client; we are supposed to win. We are supposed to represent the client to the best of our ability, and try to achieve the client’s goals — win. I’m a New York City trained lawyer, and New Yorkers take no prisoners. It’s not my job to try and make the other side feel good. My job is to get the other side to either see reason and settle, or to drag them kicking and screaming through the courthouse door to stand in front of a jury. I do feel for the defendants, it’s no fun to be sued, but then they shouldn’t have ripped off or victimized my client. It’s not personal, it’s business. When choosing a lawyer, it is important that you find someone that you can trust and talk to, who has an approach to your case and philosophy that you agree with.
Avoid Empty Threats. You should never make an empty threat. If you threaten someone that you are going to do X if they don’t do Y, then you may have to go through with X when they don’t deliver Y. I like to quote Al Capone on this, he said, "I find I get much better results with a kind word and a loaded gun, than with a kind word alone." The metaphorical loaded gun is the threat of filing a lawsuit against the defendant; so I never make empty threats (a legal threat is not extortion, it is saying you are going to do something you have a legal right to do, unless, they do something you want that they have the legal right to do.) That doesn’t mean that every case results in a lawsuit. In fact the vast majority of all cases settle without a trial, and I work hard to try to find a solution that doesn’t require litigation. But if that fails, then we file a lawsuit, and I’m one of those people who enjoy litigation. I like trial work. I like examining the evidence. I like preparing the motions. I like the pressure. I like arguing the case. I like that stuff; it’s why I became a lawyer. By the way, if you’re reading this because I’m representing someone against you (which is smart) — maybe because you’ve gotten a demand letter threatening a lawsuit (a legal threat), don’t think that’s an empty threat (that would be dumb), because if the letter says we are going to sue you unless you settle (which it probably does), you should expect the lawsuit soon after the settlement deadline (so you should take that letter very seriously).
High Volume Business Model. Running a law firm can be expensive; rent, paralegal salaries, research fees, etc, all add up to high overhead. Particularly for the downtown firms, they need to create a high-volume-quick-turnaround business model. So they ‘flip’ cases to get quick settlements, and move onto the next case. For them — every case that doesn’t settle can be lost in trial, so a small settlement is better than the risk of nothing, and then they can move onto the next case. The result is that they settle cases for less than they are worth; and most clients never know the difference.
Firms that Shine the Client On. To support this business model, they advertise heavily, put the potential clients in a conference room full of impressive looking law books and a nice view. The lawyer gives them a ‘shine job’ about how great they are, how they were ‘top of their class’, how they went to the best law school, how great the firm is, how well the client will be treated, how defendants are all terrified of their firm, blah, blah, blah; all to get the client to sign on the line. Then the lawyer disappears, and the paralegals do all the work and run ‘interference’ between the client. Many times the client never talks to the lawyer again until when they hand over the check and ask for referrals of the client’s friends and family.
Dirty Secrets: The dirty little secret in the business is that the whole shine job doesn’t mean squat. Legal research is done online via paid subscription services. Rent is cheaper outside of downtown. If you don’t have high overhead, you don’t need a high-volume-quick-turnaround business model. Lawsuits are paper — pieces of paper. You don’t need an expensive downtown office; you need a phone, a computer, an internet connection, and a printer. Those conference room books are expensive wallpaper. Insurance companies aren’t afraid of anybody, because they have endless resources and lots of lawyers. They don’t care what school your lawyer went to, or if they were top or bottom in the class, or any of the rest of the shine job. They care about the facts; what can be proved, and how those facts will ‘play’ to a jury. They base everything, including settlements, on what the jury will believe.
High Case Load: Lawyers with lots of cases have less time for their clients. The more cases they have, the more likely they have to ‘flip’ those cases to make money. If a lawyer has more than about 60 cases, that’s probably a clue they have to many cases to give you personal attention; less cases is better.
Paralegals: If a lawyer has more than one full-time paralegal, they are probably foisting lots of work onto them. So that means that your access to the lawyer is limited. Now a paralegal is not bad, and if they work closely with the lawyer, and the lawyer maintains good client contact then that can be good, but a high case load, and more than one paralegal, then that’s probably a clue that the paralegal runs ‘interference’.
Downtown Office: A downtown office is a danger sign that the lawyer has high overhead. It’s not always true, but the higher the overhead, the more pressure there is to build a business model that ‘flips’ cases fast to maximize easy receivables.
A Nice View: How expensive do you think that rent is? Think they might need to ‘flip’ a lot of cases to pay for it? Do you need to pay for that view?
Advertising: Every business needs to advertise, but lawyers that advertise heavily, are trying to create a high-volume business. The best cases always come from referrals from other lawyers or former clients; a big ad budget is a real danger sign of a ‘flip’ firm.
Stuffed Shirt Shine Job: Defendants and Juries Care About Facts; Not The Shine Job. § Big Egos Only Perry Mason won every case he tried. Every good lawyer knows that good lawyers lose good cases everyday; it’s just the way the law works — sometimes juries and courts get it wrong. A good lawyer should be humble. Any lawyer that puts their ego on display, or tells the client ‘they can’t lose’ is a bad lawyer.