I'm always fond of reminding my clients as to why they have hired me as an attorney. First, hiring an attorney is not about looking good, feeling more secure, or because you think you "have to." While these might be ancillary reasons, the real reason one hires an attorney is to protect your freedom, your family, and your money.
When faced with a crime, you might be facing jail time. If you're dealing with a divorce, you might be facing the loss of your children. And if you're mired in a bog of civil litigation, you might be looking to lose money – whether or not you are the one doing the suing or you are the one getting sued. Whatever the reason, if you think you need an attorney . . . go get one.
Like many things, all attorneys are not created equal. If I were being charged with a criminal allegation, facing a divorce, or looking to lose (or win) a substantial amount of money, I'd look for an attorney with the following attributes:
1. An attorney that is personable. Good attorneys know the law, but great attorneys know people. Many attorneys fight hard for their clients, but the reality is, it's often best to just be nice and look for an equitable solution. Law suits don't always have to be about aggression and adversarial positions; whenever possible, a great attorney will look for an objective, fair, solution. Thinking "win/win" is not just a catch phrase, but the lifeblood of good litigation. When parties fight, the only person who is guaranteed to win is – wait for it now – the attorneys. If your attorney knows the law and can work with a smile, it will save you stress, time, and money.
A great attorney will follow the adage, "settle when you can, and fight when you must."
2. An attorney that doesn't always tell you what you want to hear. Keep in mind that selling you on legal services is how attorneys feed their families. An easy – and inappropriate – way of landing a client is to tell the client what they want to hear. While this may make a person eager to open up their pocket book, it ultimately will lead to bitterness and regret when expectations aren’t met. The right attorney will tell you the brutal facts, rather than promise a result that is unrealistic but enticing.
A great attorney will tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear.
3. An attorney that doesn't always do what you want. Attorneys that make the client happy by doing what the client wants will ultimately lose and have a disappointed and upset client. Can you imagine being a physician and trying to do a procedure with the patient – with no skill or expertise in the field of medicine – constantly telling you where to cut, how to stitch, or when to deliver anesthesia? Always expecting your attorney to do what you want will lead to inevitable disappointment and loss. Consider an attorney who will, when necessary, tell you to, "Shut up and do what I say."
A great attorney won't indulge your irrational fears and will protect you from you.
4. An attorney that listens. Equally important to the skill of standing firm when faced with an irrational client, is the attorney's ability to listen. In order to win a case, you have to know the client's expectations and you have to know and understand the facts.
A great attorney will always take the time to understand your feelings and opinions.
5. An attorney who has empathy. Empathy means that one is able to see and feel another's situation and see a set of circumstances from the other person’s position. If you're talking to an attorney, chances are you are going through one of the most stressful times of your life. Your attorney should know and realize this without hesitation. You should feel and believe your attorney cares – because they really do, not because it’s their “job.”
A great attorney doesn't judge you for your mistakes or misfortunes.
6. An attorney who loves what they do. The foundation for doing anything great is passion. People who are passionate about the law and helping other people make the best attorneys. Take the time to find them.
With your freedom, family, and finances on the line, pick someone who is passionate.
Finally, if you find out that your attorney doesn’t share these qualities after you’ve hired him, effectively discovering that you’ve made a hiring mistake, make a change and find the right one.