How Lawyers Cheat and Swindle Their Clients – Chapter 3 – So You Need A Lawyer

Posted on Jan 06, 2016

EZ Diet Comment:  This is Chapter 3 of the free eBook below. This is what you need to know if you’re ever sued, or decide to sue someone else. Unless more people recognize this problem and become conscious of the extent to which lawyers and the legal system manipulate the general public, the situation can only deteriorate further.

How Attorneys Cheat and Swindle ClientsCHAPTER THREE


Living in the United States, it is extremely unlikely that, during the entire course of you life, you will never need to hire an attorney. It’s almost impossible you’ll never have to hire one; such is the nature of the American legal system.

So what do you do when you have a legal problem?

Before you hire a lawyer, you need to establish a number of key elements:

#1 What is the nature of your problem?

#2 Do you actually need a lawyer?

#3 What kind of lawyer do you need?

#4 What do you need the lawyer to do?

#5 How much should you pay?

#6 What should you avoid?

The Nature of Your Problem

Before you make any effort to address a legal problem, you have to define what the problem is. Do you have a personal problem or a business problem? Are you initiating the action against another person or business or are you likely to be the defendant in a legal action?

Do You Actually Need A Lawyer?

Once you know what problem you have, decide whether you need a lawyer or whether you can solve the problem without involving one.

No attorney will tell you this but you don’t need a lawyer to represent you in traffic court. You don’t need an attorney to process an uncontested divorce, and you generally don’t need one to represent you in Small Claims Court. You don’t need an attorney to draw up your forms for incorporation and you don’t necessarily need one to process your immigration case.

If your issue is uncomplicated and involves filling out and filing legal forms, you probably don’t need an attorney at all. You have two options for saving on legal costs: do the work yourself or hire a paralegal to do the work for you.

With a bit of time and effort, you can respond to or file an uncontested divorce, you can file incorporation documents, and you can file or respond to minor claims. It generally pays to do a bit of research but most forms are reviewed by court clerks before they can be filed; this saves judges and other legal professionals time and money contacting the claimants and informing them of what information is missing and what needs to be redone.

Your other option is to hire a paralegal to complete the work for you. This will save you the time and energy of dealing with the issue yourself and is a relatively cost-effective choice. The best way to find a paralegal is through an attorney friend, a court reporter, or a private investigator whose judgment you trust. The next best way is to investigate the professional requirements for paralegals within your state by calling your local bar association, and calling local organizations and listings.

If your legal issue is complicated or involves a lot of money, you are best advised to hire a lawyer. Under certain circumstances and with the appropriate cautionary measures, a competent lawyer is the best protection you have against serious financial liability in the event of a major lawsuit.

What Kind of Lawyer Do You Need and How Should You Select A Lawyer?

A jack-of-all-trades lawyer is generally not what you need to handle your legal issue. If you actually need a lawyer, then it pays to hire one who is specially trained and who is experienced in the area of law that you are particularly concerned with.

There are many different types of law. You need to determine what type of lawyer you need, what area of specialty they should have.

If you are dealing with a contested divorce, you need a divorce lawyer who is experienced with divorce cases. If you’re divorce involves children and substantial property settlements, you need a lawyer who has a proven track record in dealing with these issues.

If you are dealing with a business issue, you need a lawyer with experience and a proven track record in the particular area that concerns you, whether it’s corporate litigation, insurance, workers’ compensation, imports and exports, international business law, or tax-related issues.

If your dealing with a criminal issue, you certainly need a lawyer with a track record in dealing with criminal law; you probably also need a trial lawyer.

Finding a List of Prospective Attorneys

You need to have a list of at least three attorneys who may be able to handle your case competently. The best way to come up with such a list is to utilize the resources you have available, starting with personal referrals.

Personal Referrals: The best way to find a lawyer is generally through someone whose judgment you trust. If you know an attorney, regardless of what area of law they deal with, they are likely to be able to give you some names of attorneys who may be able to help you. Call an attorney who specializes in an area of law that is not related to your issue and be sure to ask for the reasons behind positive and negative comments about all lawyers whose names come up.

Bar Association Referrals: Around the country, bar associations, which are responsible for licensing attorneys to practice, have created lawyers’ referral services. For a nominal fee, volunteer attorneys offer initial client interviews and give the opportunity for potential clients to ask important legal questions about cases. Bar association referrals are usually relatively cheap, averaging around $50 for an initial consultation. They are often cost-effective as well, offering an opportunity to get an attorney’s perspective on your case and tips about what you should do. You can probably also get a detailed list of specialists in the area of law in which you need assistance and sound recommendations.

Martindale-Hubbell: A reference guide that lists lawyers by geographical area, the Martindale-Hubbell is always on option for picking lawyers and reading up on some of the details about any lawyers you’re referred to. The guide, published since 1868, detailing individual lawyer specializations, their educational background, and any notable biographical details. Many lawyers are also given a rating, based on a poll of attorneys in the community. An “A” rating is considered very high, a “B” rating is high, and a “C” rating is fair. Ratings are offered for ability, experience, and honesty. The attorney’s standard of ethics is also rated; the placement of a “V” next to the lawyer’s name indicates that they have a high standard of ethics, although the absence of such a rating does not necessarily mean that the lawyer is bad.

Pre-Paid Legal Plans: Some people have access to pre-paid legal plans, usually through payroll deduction, credit unions, trade unions, or credit card companies like American Express, for a low monthly fee. Referrals tend to amount to telephone listings only, so prepaid plans users should certainly utilize other resources to find out more about lawyers they’re referred to through pre-paid legal plans.

The Yellow Pages: One of the largest listings for lawyers is certainly your local phone directory. The Yellow Pages feature most lawyers in your area and may list lawyers under certain specifications. While the Yellow Pages is a good resource for finding lawyers names and getting some idea of which lawyers specialize in the area of law you’re concerned with, lawyers pay for these ads. There is no independent organization verifying the information about lawyer’s specializations or experience. If you use the Yellow Pages or any other phone directory to get names and contact information for potential lawyers, you need to use another resource, such as the Martindale-Hubbell directory to get more information about the lawyers you are considering calling.

Narrowing Your List

The objective is to pull together a list of at least five or six attorneys who could handle your case. From that list you then begin making phone calls and arranging interviews. If you have a long list of prospects, you can minimize it by doing a bit of extra research. Calling the state bar and then going through the local courthouse civil case index you can find out whether any of the attorneys on your list have undergone disciplinary hearings or been directly involved, as either the plaintiff or defendant, in a civil law suit. You can find out whether any of your prospective attorneys has been sued for overcharging or malpractice. Going the extra mile is a fairly sure way of protecting yourself. You should also rule out lawyers who belong to big firms as they tend to be the most overworked and overwrought. They tend to operate in an extreme political corporate environment with the unending pressures of bill-or-perish. A legal issue rarely benefits from handling by such a person.

The Interview Phase

Before you hire a lawyer, you need to interview them. After all, you are probably going to end up paying them a considerable sum of money to work for you. If you needed to hire a personal assistant or a secretary, you would interview them first. You need to be sure that the attorney you hire is the professional you are looking for so there are a number of questions you need to ask them and a number of things you need to discuss with them.

Interviewing a lawyer can be a tricky business though. Some lawyers offer “free consultations”, requiring you to visit their offices to discuss your case. In most cases, you should avoid these lures. Free consultations are generally not consultations at all, but thirty minutes set aside by the attorney for chit-chat, after which they will insist that you retain them before they offer you any legal advice or assistance. You need to establish that you’re interested in obtaining a clear impression of what the lawyer can and cannot do for you.

There are several fundamental issues you need to discuss during the first interview with your first choice lawyer:

#1 Have they handled legal matters like yours before? How many and what were the outcomes?

#2 Do you have a case? What is the likelihood of mediation?

#3 Who, in the lawyer’s office, will handle the case?

#4 How does the lawyer charge and how much? How much do his secretaries and paralegals charge?

#5 What are the standard payment arrangements?

#6 Does the lawyer want a retainer? What for and how much? Is it refundable?

#7 Does the lawyer have experience dealing with the opposition or with the judge in the case?

You also need to make sure your attorney draws up a precise contract, detailing every aspect of the agreement you have made. This contract is a good defense against being ripped off, so don’t waiver your right to have one.

What Do You Need the Lawyer to Do?

When you hire a lawyer, it helps to understand precisely what you want them to do for you. Understanding what you want or need in a legal matter is often easier said than done. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind:

No matter how honest and honorable your lawyer is, they are probably going to end up charging you a lot of money. Avoid spending a lot of money on legal issues if you can.

If you can resolve an issue quickly and out of court, it is usually the best solution.

With these things in mind, one of the first things you should discuss with your lawyer is the possibility of mediation. Lawyers rarely offer, but mediation is perhaps one of the best practices a lawyer can undertake for their client.

As another source concurs:

Lawyers know that settling a case quickly will save clients a bundle in legal fees. In fact, the rules of professional conduct require lawyers to consider alternative ways of settling disputes, such as mediation. For obvious reasons, though, not all lawyers urge you in this direction. “I have heard lawyers who work on the premise: the longer I keep you in court, the more money I make…”[1]

You should keep in mind that, in litigation and family law cases, mediators are particularly effective.

Unlike a judge, [mediators] tend to target the emotional issues behind many conflicts. (“He hung up before I could explain!” “She cheated with my best friend!” “He wouldn’t trim his hedge when I asked…!”) They then help parties settle out of court. According to Toronto family mediator Barbara Landau, the process often begins with a simple apology. “When someone hears, ‘I’m sorry,’ the trust rises and the anger deflates…Instead of wasting time and money running to court, we problem-solve.”[2]

Make sure your attorney is prepared to negotiate and mediate if there is any possibility of that; a gun-ho attitude does not always pay, particularly in very personal instances, such as divorce cases.

On the other hand, you don’t want an attorney who makes a poor effort at representing your interests. Whether mediation is attempted or not, your attorney needs the right balance: neither too conciliatory nor to inflexible.

How Much Should You Pay?

When you get around to talking money with your attorney, talk specifics. Exactly how much are they going to charge you? What are they going to charge you for?

Depending on the nature of your case, your attorney will work for a flat fee, a contingency fee, or an hourly rate.

Small, uncomplicated jobs are generally worked on for a flat fee; you should consult a couple of attorneys to compare prices.

Personal injury lawyers are primarily responsible for contingency fees and the slogan, “We only get paid if you do”. Of course, there’s a catch. Lawyers in particular, rarely work for nothing and will probably bill you for “expenses” regardless of whether or not you win your case. Always discuss the “expenses” with an attorney who asks for a contingency fee. You should also keep in mind that a standard contingency fee is between thirty and fifty percent.

Lawyers generally charge hourly rates of between $150 and $600; anything above this is either an indication that you have one of the best lawyers out there or an indication that you’re being grossly misled. Check the rate of your lawyer’s secretary and their paralegals; consider that you may end up paying their hourly rates as well.

Find out how often you will be billed by your lawyer and how often they expect payment.

Remember that everything to do with money is negotiable so discuss an arrangement with your lawyer that suits you. Get all terms written down in a contract that you and your lawyer can sign.

What You Should Avoid and Why

An apt analogy: hiring a lawyer is like buying a car second hand. You rarely know anything about the quality or reliability until you’ve been around the block a few times. You rarely know whether a lawyer is good and reliable until you’ve worked with them for a while on your case.

You can look out for a couple of tell-tale signs, though. When you interview with your lawyer, a couple of things may tell you it’s time to walk away and find someone else.

Any lawyer who tries to give you business advice is a “no-no”. Lawyers rarely know anything about business, so the advice is probably bad. It’s also outside of their scope; you don’t hire a lawyer to give you business advice; you’re paying enough for the legal advice you did ask for. Stick to law.

Don’t be fooled by the lawyer who swamps you with legal jargon or goes off your problem to overwhelm you with his expertise. Lawyers who try to impress with an all-out legal jargon attack either don’t know what they’re doing or have an ego that may cloud their judgment in handling your case. Unless you’re in for a show-trial, avoid ostentatious lawyers.

Walk away from any attorney who advertises as a specialist only to refer you to someone else. Only general practicing attorneys should “refer” you to a specialist. Even then, beware. Some indiscriminate lawyers make a good living from referrals alone. You don’t want to unnecessarily pay for someone else’s meal ticket so find your own specialist.

If your attorney cannot give you their full attention during your allotted meeting time, walk away. An attorney who allows interruption during your meeting time is unprofessional and unlikely to give your case the attention it deserves.

Finally, stay away from the “used-car salesmen” of law; attorneys who aggressively promise you big wins rarely deliver. Your money is better spent elsewhere.

Points to Consider When You Need An Attorney

The principle reason attorneys have such a bad image is their ferocious greed. The client is at high risk to get swindled, but there’s very little you can do to protect yourself. You can dispute your lawyer’s charges on the bills that your receive, explaining why you consider an item unreasonable. You can ask your lawyer to reduce the charges. But if your lawyer refuses, there’s little you can do to push them. Unless you can prove your attorney was dishonest in their open financial dealings, you’re unlikely to get any retribution.

Attorneys know how to bill their clients. They know how to create billable hours and to cover their tracks. In 2004, the Law Society of British Columbia received 1,534 complaints about lawyers in the province and ordered only 30 penalties.

And what you’re lawyer will never tell you: it’s tough to win a case against them for malpractice:

Some 68% of malpractice claims from 1996 through 1999 closed without the client receiving payment from the lawyer’s insurance company, and only 6.7% netted more than $50,000, according to a 2001 ABA survey… Why is it so hard? For one thing, only an estimated 30 to 50% of lawyers even carry insurance, so collecting is a long shot. Plus, to win your case, you have to prove not only that the lawyer failed to perform but also that your case would have turned out differently had he done a better job. Hard to do, since a legal issue is seldom a slam-dunk, even if the lawyer does everything right.[3]

You should also watch out for the overworked, overstressed lawyers who could prove a general hindrance to your case.

Amongst the most common impairments to lawyers’ professional abilities are uncovered by disciplinary cases filed by clients:

An Illinois survey found that 40-75% of discipline cases involve a chemically dependent or mentally ill practitioner.

A Louisiana study found that 80% of Client Protection Fund cases involve chemical dependency or a gambling component.

A study by John Hopkins Medical School found that of 28 occupations surveyed, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer depression than the average person.

All fifty states have developed lawyer assistance programs or committees focused on quality of life issues, employing the use of intervention, peer counseling, and referral to Twelve Step Programs to assist in the lawyer’s recover process.[4]

In the event that your attorney’s billing is suspect or if you suspect your lawyer may have a mental illness or dependency issue of any kind, you must dismiss them immediately.

The best way to protect yourself from your lawyer is to be vigilant and involved with your case so that you can note discrepancies in their billing and performance.

What Message Is Your Law Firm Sending the Opposition

On final issue to keep in mind is the message your new law firm may be sending to the opposition. If you hire the best known, most expensive law firm in your area thinking that their downtown, high-rise, multi-floor mahogany cathedral will intimidate, impress, or cower the opposition you could be making a big mistake. This is especially true if you’re the Defendant in the case. You may be sending a message that you have a lot to lose and you’ll do anything to protect it. This can and will get in the way of an early settlement option for any reasonable amount of money. Your opponent’s attorney will smell blood in the water, I mean money and assets you want to protect. So be careful what messages your law firm may project that could hinder your position.

[1] Myers, R.C. (2005) The 10 Things Lawyers Won’t Tell You, MoneySense Magazine, November 2005.

[2] Myers (2005).

[3] What Your Lawyer Will Never Tell You (2003).

[4] Herskowitz Singer (2003)


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