As we all know, law firms and attorneys come in lots of different sizes and with very differing qualities. There is the obvious difference between a new lawyer that just passed the bar exam and the very experienced attorney that has been practicing law for several decades. Often the newer attorney will charge much less per hour for his or her legal services to gain the experience of handling and managing your case and start their learning process. When I first came out of law school and began practicing as a "newbie" I billed my services at $100 per hour. Accordingly, the clients and cases I accepted were basically the types of cases that other attorneys would not accept or I was willing to grind through the process to learn along the way. This took a great deal of trust from my clients knowing that I was "inexperienced" but willing to help them and to charge far less than the other attorneys they had already talked with or met about their case.
But with time and perseverance, I've gained priceless knowledge about people, the opposing counsel, and the courts. This being said, there is a very good reason why legal work is called a "practice." I find that every case is unique to each client's situation and expectations. Every case comes with a unique personality and temperament of each client. Every case always has a nuance to the facts that makes the law applicable to be either very challenging to mold into an acceptable argument or settlement disposition. No case is ever the same as another. Thus, it truly is a "practice" to remain open to the changes that arise in the law and also the situations that require flexible thinking to seek out the best solutions to resolve the problem within the law.
But back to the drowning scenario.... I often advise my potential clients to sometimes seek out and get secondary consultations since every lawyer has his or her own experience with a case that may be comparable to a case they handled or resolved in their past. Furthermore, much like a doctor's opinion of a medical condition, a secondary opinion can sometimes be drastically different from the first medical opinion. So, one should not simply rely on just one opinion of case, but get at least two or three depending on the complexity or challenges of one's legal situation or case. So, it really does benefit the client to have a basis of comparison among different attorney to evaluate the differences or similarities in the opinion given on one's case before making a final decision on which attorney will be hired to represent on the case.
Also, the client should also always ask the attorney to describe how their approach would be to their situation and case. This is a very important series of questions to ask since this will give the client a much greater insight into the attorney's personal legal experience and ability to describe how the attorney could or would approach the problem. Sometimes, this one question alone can reveal much about how the attorney's approach may be in line with the client's expectations or totally off. In such a case, the life vest may be too large or too small to fit and protect the sinking client in his or her time of need.
Another important discussion that the client should have with the attorney is the expected fees involved in representation of their case. An hourly charge situation is like giving a blank check without any limits in sight without any guarantees with the outcome. In this kind of uncomfortable situation, one should be very careful and have an open and honest discussion of the budget and financial limitations that exist to determine if financially this particular attorney is someone the client can afford or not. Again, the floatation device may be too expensive and heavy laden with costs and charges that makes it too unbearable and eventually will further facilitate the sinking process. On the other hand, if the attorney's limited experience renders his or her fees more manageable, but not as effective, then the opposite effect could happen where the life jacket is simply too limited in its capacity to hold one up on the water.
Finally, try to have a face to face sit down meeting with the potential attorney so that you can see them and hear them and note their demeanor. What you see in this first meeting will be what the other attorney or the Judge or Prosecutor will see and sometimes the "gut" feeling about the person you meet and interview will be very important in the final decision to either retain and hire the attorney or move onto another meeting with someone else. In the same way, the attorney will also be interviewing the client to determine if the client seems credible, a good witness, and a client that has his or her expectations within the realm of reasonableness that the attorney can achieve or strive to accomplish. I've found that a thorough discussion of expectations from the client must be discussed at the end of every initial consultation to determine if their goals from the case or situation is something that the attorney can consider as achievable or not. A lesson I've learned over the years is to never simply buy into an expectation held by the client, but rather speak candidly of what options there might be available to the client and then allow the client to weigh and make their final decision upon being fully informed of these options. Sometimes, an expectation unrestrained or mismanaged will often lead to a bitter separation or termination of representation.
I believe every attorney truly seeks to help their client achieve the best result for their client and measures success by the difference their role in the case makes at the end of the case from where the case began. Again, the type of floatation device must fit snugly and comfortably in order for there to be the trust necessary for the client to hand over his or her situation to someone that can truly help them survive the emergency and being lost in the open ocean. Communication must happen from both sides and it must happen in a respectful, open, and considerate manner. Trust is a bedrock upon which an attorney-client relationship must be built upon. Do not simply grab the first life jacket that comes into reach, but rather examine, hold, and evaluate the jacket (i.e. the potential attorney) and make sure that the person you hire is the right size, weight, and balance that you will need to overcome and survive the emergency in your life.
People don't call or seek out an attorney because life is fine and well. The need for an attorney only comes when life throws you a real "problem" and not just a mere inconvenience. Therefore, take a deep breath, search, research, interview, and evaluate before making that final decision on who you will ultimately trust to take your problem and make it theirs and work hard for you to reach a better final result than you expected or a resolution that you can accept as better than when you were left floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. These are just some points of my thoughts about this difficult process of finding the right attorney for you. Thank you.