As an attorney who regularly handles disputes between attorneys and clients, I get the benefit of doing the autopsy on failed attorney-client relationships. As a result, I have noticed many bad attorney-client relationships were doomed to fail from the very beginning because the client simply hired the wrong lawyer. Here is a look at three common mistakes clients make when hiring an attorney.
- They want a pit bull, not a lawyer. Some prospective clients hunt for the meanest, nastiest lawyer they can find, thinking the lawyer, through unbridled aggression, can bully the other side into submission. That rarely works. Pit bulls are expensive and often ineffective. Clients are generally better served by retaining competent, civil lawyers who can analyze cases and achieve litigation goals efficiently. Civility and aggression are not mutually exclusive. Good attorneys can litigate civilly and be aggressive advocates for their clients.
- They want a “Yes” person. Many prospective clients are certain that they have a great case and are quick to reject lawyers who feel otherwise. Prospective clients who reject any criticism of their case are susceptible to the attorney who pats them on the head and tells them what a great case they have. They pay that attorney a large retainer and substantial fees, all the while being assured they have the best case in history of law. Those clients are then dismayed when that same attorney eventually tells them that their case is not as pretty as was when it walked in the door. Clients should be looking for attorneys willing to provide objective advice about the merits of the case, even if that is not what the client wants to hear.
- They fail to appreciate the long-term economics of litigation. At times, prospective clients have such strong opinions about their case, they foolishly believe that the other side will beg for mercy upon receiving a demand letter or complaint. That rarely happens. Usually, even a good case requires months of active litigation to extract fair value. This costs money. Clients need to be prepared for the long-term economic investment of litigation. Pouring all your resources into obtaining a first-round knockout is bad strategy. Accordingly, when hiring a lawyer, clients need to be looking at the long-term economics of the retention. Clients that do not often find themselves in disputes with their attorney when they get far deeper into a case than they initially intended.
Michael LeBoff, P.C. is a partner at Klein & Wilson in Newport Beach, California.
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