How Do You Know if You Have a Bad Lawyer? How Do You Find a Good Lawyer?
It’s no secret: many people hate lawyers. You have probably heard someone say “all lawyers are crooks” or “all attorneys care about is money” or even “lawyers are deceitful and manipulative people”.
Unfortunately, there are many lawyers who live up to this reputation. Often times when people find themselves in a difficult legal situation, one of the most stressful parts is just finding an honest attorney to represent them. It’s no wonder that many people have opted out to trying to resolve legal matters on their own using the internet and other resources.
This matter is disheartening because the American legal system was established to protect every person’s life, liberty, and happiness. Lawyers are supposed to study the law so that they can advocate for their clients’ rights and shield them from having those rights violated.
Nonetheless, all one has to do is turn on the local news to see that our society often falls short of this ideal.
The truth is that there are good lawyers and there are bad lawyers. There are many attorneys who sacrifice a great deal for their clients. Then there are others who seem impossible to get a hold of after you pay them.
So what should you do if you are dealing with a legal matter and need help finding a good lawyer? Or, if you already have retained legal counsel, how can you tell if you have a bad lawyer? In this blog, we will share 4 signs we have observed over the years that will help you spot an unethical lawyer.
1) The Attorney Did Not Have You Sign a Contract
Why is it so important for an attorney to create a contract for you to sign? Well, for starters, without a contract there will be no expectations set between you and your lawyer. The attorney-client relationship is very serious and requires a lot of trust and open communication. Without a contract, you leave yourself unprotected from potential unethical or deceitful actions a lawyer may take.
A contract minimizes the miscommunications that can occur and makes the expectations clear for both parties. If you hire a private attorney to represent you and the nature of payment is not agreed upon from the start within the contract, then unfortunately you are almost asking for a situation to arise regarding an uncomfortable money matter.
The contract should outline the terms, scope, and conditions of the attorney’s representation. The contract should make all of the costs you have to pay clear and define what services fall under those costs. The contract should state what would happen if any of the terms agreed are violated. The contract should address communication expectations and the attorney’s availability to speak with you. Lastly, the contract should also have a section that addresses whether or not the attorney can use your name as well as the facts of your case in the law firm’s marketing materials.
If you meet with a private attorney and he or she attempts to formally represent you before a contract is signed, we highly recommend that you turn the other way, run, and don’t look back.
2) The Attorney Guarantees that He or She Will Win the Case
This is an easy red flag to spot. There is not a single bar association in any state that allows attorneys to promise that they will beat your case. It is unethical for an attorney to do this and it is strictly prohibited.
An attorney can tell you whether a case is difficult or in your favor, but an attorney cannot say “if you hire me, I will beat this case” or “if you hire me, I can guarantee that we will win”. This explicit language that promises results is highly unethical and a clear sign that you are dealing with a bad lawyer.
Now here’s where people get confused: a lawyer CAN make promises regarding their efforts and aspirations. Although specifics vary per state, in general, a lawyer can tell you that they will “do all that they can” to win or that they will “fight to beat your case”. In other words, an attorney can say that they will try as hard as they can to beat your case, but they can neither promise nor guarantee that they will.
If you think that this distinction is tricky, we recommend that you clarify with the attorney whether or not they are making a promise or guarantee to win. If the attorney responds by saying that they cannot ethically make such a promise to you, then the statements they were making to you earlier were probably “aspirational” statements. If the attorney responds by saying “yes, I guarantee we are going to win”, then you can thank them for their time and never speak to them again.
Although all people want reassurance during a stressful situation and a time of need, lawyers are not clairvoyant and cannot promise you a winning result in a case legally or in good conscience.
On the other hand, a good lawyer will tell you what their plan of attack is and layout all of their cards on the table for how they plan to beat your case. The attorney should be transparent with you and disclose their entire strategy with you as well as make you feel like you are fully in the loop with the plan. The lawyer should be honest with you regarding how challenging the case is and how risky or straightforward the chosen approach to fight it is.
Certain details you can keep an eye out for the attorney to mention are their assessment of the prosecutor (if a criminal case), the judge, and the county. The attorney should fill you in on what evidence the prosecutor has against you, what the judge on the case is like and how he or she typically rules, as well as the laws and statistics about similar cases in the county.
Some clients want their attorney to take an aggressive or “bullish” approach to the case whereas other clients want their attorney to choose the safest and least risky strategy. What ultimately matters is whether or not the attorney and the client are on the same page regarding the strategy.
3) The Lawyer is Almost Impossible to Get in Contact With
This red flag is among the most common when it comes to bad lawyers. Many people have had an experience where they trust a lawyer to handle their legal matter but feel as if they never hear from the lawyer ever again.
As stated earlier, a good lawyer will set the expectations for communication clear from the start. A great lawyer, however, will follow up with you regarding the status of your case with updates. Attorneys, however, are very busy people and should not be expected to be able to talk at the drop of a dime. In general, if you call your lawyer and he or she is not able to talk at that moment, a reasonable standard is that the attorney should be able to get back to you within 24 hours.
If you make repeated calls to your attorney and he or she is never available to talk, then that is a serious red flag. Depending on the size of the firm, you may not even necessarily have to speak to the attorney him or herself in order to inquire about the status of your case. Many firms have paralegals and legal assistants that spend just as much time on your case as the attorneys themselves do. The key is that someone at the firm who knows about your case should be able to make time for you and put your mind at ease for any questions you have.
Why do some attorneys seem impossible to reach and leave you waiting for days to hear back from them? It’s a mystery that often goes unanswered. You may hear every excuse in the book before arriving at the truth. That is why the best thing you can do to protect yourself from this situation is by hiring an attorney who makes it clear from the beginning when he or she will be available to speak with you. If your attorney cannot do this, then you should probably tell your lawyer goodbye.
4) The Lawyer Claims to be Friends with the Judge
Although this may seem like one of the most ridiculous indicators of a bad lawyer on the list, it, unfortunately, has happened.
If a lawyer ever suggests that he or she can get you a favorable outcome on the case because he or she is “buddies” with the judge, then you should end the conversation there. It is extremely unlikely that a judge would ever put his or her career on the line just to “hook up a buddy”. You need to ask yourself, “would a judge really risk getting themselves disgracefully fired for my case?” Probably not. If such a thing indeed were to happen, it would be a national spectacle.
Just because you’ve seen it in a movie doesn’t mean that it happens in real life. Attorneys and judges aren’t on golf courses making deals together to receive leniency for a client.
Now, on the other hand, your attorney may know the judge well on a professional level. Your attorney and the judge may be mutually aware of each other’s reputation. Your attorney may have tried several cases that have been heard by a particular judge. If the attorney tries to spin that to make it seem like that somehow makes the attorney and the judge “friends”, then you can bet that you are dealing with a deceitful and unethical lawyer.
It is true that in a given area, many individuals in the legal community know one another. Attorneys, prosecutors and judges do often know one another by reputation or from when professional matters put them in contact with one another. Having a good reputation can certainly help your lawyer, but taking that idea so far as to think that your lawyer might get special treatment from a judge is a major red flag.
About the Rossen Law Firm, Recipient of the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Ethics:
The Rossen Law Firm is a Criminal, DUI, and Federal Defense Law Firm whose mission is to help good people when bad things happen to them so that they can achieve their best future.
The Rossen Law Firm has recently been awarded the BBB Torch Award for Ethics due to its involvement in the community and high standards of ethics in its practice.
The BBB Torch Award for Ethics honors companies that demonstrate best practices, leadership, social responsibility, and high standards of organizational ethics that benefit their customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and communities.
“We are humbled to receive this prestigious award and it is especially an honor to be recognized for demonstrating ethics in our organization. Unfortunately, within criminal defense law firms, there are many examples of unethical practices and behaviors that have serious repercussions on people and the outcome of their cases. When you come to a criminal defense attorney, you are entrusting them with something very serious, oftentimes after something really bad happened. So at the Rossen Law Firm, we want to make a change in this industry and be an example of what it looks like to help good people when bad things happen to them so they can achieve their best futures”.