Hallmarks of a Lawyer and Why They Matter to You

Lawyer, attorney, counselor at law, abogado………..regardless of the name used licensed members of the legal profession lead busy lives.  Perhaps a bit busier than other professions but not as busy as some others.  Lawyers hold a very important public trust when they interact with clients and potential clients.  People bring their questions, issues, problems,  and other important matters to us and it is up to us to determine whether and how to provide assistance.  There are times when the attorney is unable to assist due to money, time, conflict of interest, lack of relevant knowledge or experience, or other reasons and these are unfortunate indeed.  However there are times when an attorney is right for the job and a right fit for the client.  The goal is to properly advise a client of the relevant facts, the law, and options for moving forward. 

When a legal question or situation arises you must first determine if you need a lawyer.  If you answer “yes” you should begin contacting lawyers and note three hallmarks of a lawyer’s trade:  paperwork, problem-solving, and personal interaction.  A word or two about each 

Paperwork can mean creating contracts, documents, and forms for a client.  In the event a case results in litigation the paperwork will likely mean filing of pleadings, discovery, affidavits, motions, and other legal documents.  In criminal cases there may not be as much paperwork generated by the lawyer but this does not mean the matter is any less important especially when a client’s right to life and liberty are at stake.  It takes time to review and create the necessary paperwork when handling a case and it is of the utmost importance that the attorney and client are on the same page as to this need.  If a lawyer asks a client to provide a document or some other paperwork the client should make all reasonable effort to provide the same.  Likewise if a client requests review of an item or document the lawyer should accommodate said request.  A two-way street all for the purpose of advancing the client’s case.  Note that cases involving a lot of paperwork—business litigation, construction litigation, employment litigation, contract cases—may result in higher attorney fees but this is due in large part to the time and expertise/experience needed to effectively represent the client.

Problem-solving goes directly to the lawyer’s ability to take the facts, evidence, documents, and other relevant items provided and determine the legal issues to be addressed as well as how best to address them.  The Bar exam is often noted as being the ultimate exercise in issue-spotting.  In most states there as an entire day—-from about 9 am to 5 pm with a lunch break; much like the workday for the average American—of the Bar exam which consists of multiple fact patterns from which the test-taker must answer certainbriefcase questions or otherwise provide an explanation of the legal claims, defenses, and issues arising from the fact patterns.  Every time a potential client consults with an attorney the attorney is having to go through this issue-spotting exercise all over again.  With the numerous nuances, exceptions, provisions, and other features of the law it is not uncommon for a lawyer to obtain facts and documents from a potential client so the lawyer can review them and later provide answers and an assessment for the potential client.  Sometimes an immediate answer to a legal question is neither advisable nor possible.  The “good lawyer” will explain the situation to the potential client and answer questions so there is relative clarity and understanding as to what can and will be done.

Personal interaction involves dealing with clients, opposing counsel, judges, mediators, insurance adjusters, expert witnesses, and many other persons who have roles in cases.  People will sometimes complain that a doctor lacks a good bedside manner and what this usually means is the doctor failed to effectively communicate with the patient.  In any service industry—law, medicine, insurance, etc.–communication is key.  In deciding on an attorney you should consider whether you are able to establish a professional rapport with her.  Do you feel comfortable asking questions and conversing with the attorney?  Is the attorney willing to answer your questions?  Does the attorney speak directly with you or are you primarily speaking with a staff member?  An attorney must know how to present your case in the best possible light and dialogue with the decision-makers in an effort to obtain the best possible result for you.  If the attorney is not well-respected or has a reputation for being abusive, condescending, or otherwise negative this will not bode well for you and your case. 

At the end of the day the lawyer has a professional obligation (advocate zealously for the client within the bounds of the law) and a personal obligation (treat persons with dignity and respect and work toward effective communication and representation).  If you have a lawyer who values each of these obligations then you are in a good position.  The case result may not be exactly what you and your lawyer had hoped for–and realize this is often a function of other factors that cannot be controlled by you or your lawyer–but the key is the attorney-client relationship was on solid ground.


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