Every good lawyer I know, and also some bad ones, has more work than he or she can handle.

One of the best, Jack Kimball, now a retired judge, once said to me, “Practicing law is the only profession of which I know that you have to undertake more than you can possibly do just to stay even.”

There are many bad ways and bad sources for finding lawyers. The internet, television, the yellow pages, recommendations from family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers may vary from excellent to dreadful. The best recommendations are from people who were represented by the lawyer in a similar case. No matter how strong the recommendation, the most important factor is your gut feeling after you talk with the lawyer. See Rule Six below.

The maxim, “you get what you pay for” does not apply to hiring lawyers. Rule One, never assume that an expensive lawyer is either competent or conscientious or vice-versa.

Lawyers are communicators. Effective trial lawyers, including any lawyer who tries family court cases, must communicate effectively, visually, orally, and in writing. People frequently tell me that their child would make a good lawyer because the child “will argue with a fence post.” Wrong. Good lawyers do not argue; they question, they listen, they explain. I tell each client at the initial interview, “First I want you to answer every question that I ask you. Then I will answer every question that you ask me and listen to everything you want to tell me. The only reason that I get to go first is that I will need some of your answers to answer your questions.” Rule Two, never hire a lawyer unless he or she asks good questions, listens to your answers, and listens to your concerns. Rule Three, hire a lawyer who respects you and your ability to help with your own case.

Frequently people tell me they chose me because “you are a fighter.” I tell them they should not want a fighter unless they want the emotional stress, the damaged relationships, the delay, and the expense that goes with a fight. They should seek a good negotiator who is able and willing to try their case if the negotiations are unsuccessful. Good negotiators maintain good relationships with other lawyers. Knowing when to settle and when to try the case requires considerable judgment. When a husband and wife go to trial, one of them is making a mistake. Rule Four, find a lawyer with good negotiation skills who can and will try your case if the other side is not reasonable.

A professional appearance suggests professional ability and standing. A person’s appearance reflects his respect for oneself and respect for one’s audience. If you come to my office with your hair in curlers or with a three day growth of beard and you are barefooted with a dirty tee shirt and ripped blue jeans or shorts, then you effectively communicate what you think of me. Likewise, if I meet you for our appointment with a mouth full of gum or tobacco, a sports shirt, and no tie then I effectively communicate what I think of you. A lawyer who appears in court with less than a dark suit, dress shirt, and tie, or comparable dress for a woman, suggests a lack of respect for the case, the judge, and himself or herself.

One should not judge the book by the cover, but one is not likely to buy a book with a poor cover unless it comes highly recommended. Rule Five, in your search for a professional lawyer, look for a professional appearance. I sometimes wear loafers to the office on “lack of pride Friday” and I may wear shorts or jeans to the office on weekends, but I generally wear a dark dress suit with a white dress shirt, and tie-up shoes to show my respect for my clients, my staff and myself.

In March 1969 a woman fired me and went to another lawyer. I was devastated. The next week another woman fired that lawyer and came to me. A great truth was revealed that day–not every lawyer is suited to every client and vice-versa. Rule Six, you and your lawyer must be comfortable with each other. If you have reservations about a lawyer, do yourself and the lawyer a favor by continuing your search. Clients want clear answers without exceptions or reservations. This is rarely possible because the law is complicated and the answers to most questions are not black or white; they are gray. I regularly explain to clients that the law is not a science, that exact answers are rarely available, that my advice may change as the circumstances change, and that people do not pay lawyers a lot of money to answer easy questions. Clients who believe that their case is simple are the most difficult clients to satisfy.

Rule Seven, if you think your case is simple do not hire me; take it to a lawyer who agrees with you.

My Favorite War Stories #18:
A Simple Case

My brother represented a businessman who insisted that his was a simple case. He could never understand why the other side did not settle. He did not understand why a trial was necessary. He believed there was only one side to the case and that was his side.

After one day of trial, he asked my brother if all of his cases were this difficult. After the second day of trial, when the judge had taken the case under advisement before deciding, he asked if there were any possibility of winning the case. After two years of contempt for the law and lawyers, he found great respect during the trial. The case had a happy ending with a mostly favorable result.