Many years ago, my dog was diagnosed with cancer. His forecast was not good. Weekly I take him to a veterinary oncologist clinic for treatment. The oncologist was cold, careless and incomplete. Worse still, he never gave up hope, making me wonder why my dog and I were there.
Eventually, when I could no longer take it, I complained to the doctor who owned the clinic. “That’s why we have quite a few doctors here,” he said. “Not every doctor is suitable for every person or pet.”
And just like that, I had a new veterinary cancer specialist. He was warm, caring and always optimistic.
I have always remembered both the importance of maintaining hope and the lesson that not every professional is suitable for every person. The same goes for lawyers. How do you know if a lawyer is right for you?
Do your research
The state bar of California has filed nearly 1,500 cases of attorney misconduct in 2020 and filed a penalty notice against 1 att0 attorney in state bar court. In 2020, 79 California attorneys were fired, and 114 more were suspended. (I suspect that the number of unhappy clients is much higher than these figures would represent.)
Always check the California State Bar website to see if there are any punitive measures against the attorney you are considering. Also, make sure the attorney is licensed to practice law.
A client once brought me their trust to review if it needed to be updated. The trust was so badly written that I saw the “attorney” who drafted it, only to be fired 10 years before the client’s trust was drafted. The attorney still maintained a website where “legal services” were mentioned and “JD” appeared significantly behind his name.
JD simply means that the person has graduated from law school. This does not mean that they have passed the bar or been admitted to practice in the state of California, which requires much more than a law school degree.
A good place to start getting a recommendation for an attorney but be sure to ask the person making the recommendation if they liked the attorney, had a good experience and felt they were treated well. You don’t just want a name.
What experience do they have?
How long have you been practicing attorneys? How long have they been practicing your service? Are they experts in that field?
Gone are the days when a neighbor’s attorney could handle your speeding ticket, your divorce, your estate plan, and your property line dispute with your neighbor. Now most attorneys, out of necessity, practice only a few related cases of law. In modern times it is difficult enough to hold two or three areas of law because of the complexity of each. An attorney providing services in multiple incomplete areas of law is probably emptying the surface in each.
Similarly, anyone who starts practicing law immediately after graduating from law school is probably not a good choice. A law school graduate has no idea how to practice law – they may know the law and be proficient in theory, but experience is always the best teacher. A new attorney can be enthusiastic and charge less, and it can be great for you as long as they are under the supervision of a more experienced scholar who knows where the mistake is going, can give practical solutions and understand the best practices in a particular case.
Lack of reasonable communication is one of the most common allegations filed against attorneys at the California State Bar.
Once you have an attorney, it is reasonable to expect your question to be answered and you will be kept up to date on matters.
If your lawyer can’t explain things to you the way you understand, or worse, don’t bother explaining things, that lawyer isn’t right for you. Similarly, if the lawyer does not return calls or emails within a reasonable time, does not keep you updated, or is bothered by your questions or concerns, this may not be the right lawyer for you.
You have a choice
Just as I could choose a different cancer specialist for my dog, you can choose another lawyer. You can dismiss your lawyer. You can interview multiple lawyers before hiring one. I wonder how some clients are interviewed before hiring a lawyer, although many attorneys offer free initial consultation (especially in the case of my estate plan).
More than 190,000 active lawyers are in good standing with the California State Bar. Make sure you choose someone who is equipped to handle your case and you are comfortable with it. This is an important and often lasting relationship.
However, my dog lived another nine years. Above all there was hope.
Teresa J. Rine is an attorney practicing in Estate Planning and Trust Administration at Riverside and Paso Robles, CA. He is the # 1 New York Times best-selling author of “The Dog Live (and Soul Will I)” and “Poppy in the Wild”. You can reach her at [email protected]