While it is true that you will probably be venturing onto someone else’s turf, this is still your case and you – not the lawyers; not the judge; not the jury – will enjoy the rewards or suffer the losses. Resolve from the beginning that you are taking personal responsibility for your case.
Some characteristics of a good lawyer will be obvious to you but please bear with me as I explain these characteristics, in no particular order of importance because they are all important and often overlap. First, a good lawyer is a critically-thinking, practical, creative counselor and advocate. A critically-thinking, practical, creative counselor and advocate anticipates possible problems and avoids them by, for example, drawing up documents covering every conceivable hazard. He/she also looks at an issue from….oh, 17 or so….different angles, and in the spaces “between the marrow and the bone” of your issue, in order to discern several options, along with their pros and cons. He/she will ask and answer questions that haven’t even occurred to you, will tell you the good and bad aspects of your case, and will help you brainstorm and sort through your options, including their risks and benefits, to develop successful tactics and strategies. Finally and fundamentally, a critically-thinking, practical, creative counselor and advocate always puts his/her client’s interests first. Period.
Secondly, a good lawyer is knowledgeable, or as one professor put it, “A lawyer knows the rule; a good lawyer knows the exception to the rule; a great lawyer knows the exception to the exception.” Good lawyers cultivate a deep knowledge of their particular fields. In order to gain that knowledge, good lawyers are constantly learning through an enormous amount of reading, researching, thinking and remembering. At least some laws cannot simply be scanned and fully understood at the last minute; they must be known and understood ahead of time and then remembered.
Third, a good lawyer is experienced. Most of a lawyer’s learning occurs after law school and in the tough arena of day-to-day practice. He/she really does “know the judge,” not necessarily because they play golf together but because the good lawyer knows how various judges treat assorted types of cases, how various opposing counsel work (or don’t work), how various clerks will help or hinder your case. All that knowledge (and more) is hard-earned over time and it can be exquisitely valuable for your case.
Fourth, a good lawyer is a strong communicator. He/she has highly developed oral and written communication skills in order to inform, articulate, persuade, cajole, support, defend, counter-attack, parry, thrust, lunge, feint, and otherwise deftly maneuver, sometimes all in the space of a minute. Done well, it is high art and it is a joy to behold (at least if he/she is on your side)!
Fifth, a good lawyer is a constant, positive, credible networker. Many issues can be resolved through informal channels, so a good lawyer has good “people skills” and positive relationships with colleagues, judges, other professionals, and other acquaintances who know and trust him/her. As a result, you may sidestep considerable outlay of time, expense and stress by quickly, informally and inexpensively resolving an issue.
Sixth, a good lawyer is a skilled, diligent organizer. He/she must usually deal with a very heavy caseload, including your case, and must therefore maintain a steady workflow that keeps you advised and meets every deadline by accurately scheduling, prioritizing tasks and efficiently delegating work to office staff.
Seventh, a good lawyer is a good negotiator. Many cases – whether criminal or civil – settle. Therefore, a very large portion of a lawyer’s work involves negotiations, so you will want a lawyer with good “poker skills” negotiating on your behalf. Please note that the best negotiator is not necessarily the most aggressive person; rather, he/she is a person who can use the gamut of tools, including but not limited to charisma, aggression and finesse, to obtain the best possible resolution for you.
Eighth, a good lawyer for you is a lawyer who is compatible with you. He/she has a good rapport and chemistry with you. You will be working closely with this lawyer throughout your case; therefore, it is important that you feel comfortable working with this lawyer on this case.
Ninth, a good lawyer knows his/her limitations. The field of Law is huge and a single lawyer cannot have the expertise, the resources, or the freedom to adequately handle every kind of case. Consequently, a good lawyer will refer cases beyond his/her expertise, resources and/or freedom (i.e. when there is a possible conflict of interest or other ethical problem).
A LIST OF DO’S AND DON’TS
DON’T be intimidated by the process or the people.
DO seek out a lawyer who is:
a. a critically-thinking, practical, creative counselor and advocate;
b. knowledgeable about his/her area of law;
d. a strong communicator;
e. a constant, positive, credible networker;
f. a skilled, diligent organizer;
g. a good negotiator;
h. compatible with you;
i. realistic about his/her limitations.
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]