I have practiced law now for 13 years and have helped hundreds of clients and worked as a public employee for 4 of those years. I have learned that there is one major reason that drives most people to hire a particular attorney: trust.
When people come to an attorney for legal help, they are normally very anxious, nervous, upset and do not know what to expect. They simply know they need help. Many of them have an innate fear that they will not be treated fairly. They think that their own attorney could play a part in their not being treated fairly. Of course, many attorneys help contribute to this distrust in the legal system, and since the potential client normally does not know the attorney personally, he enters the attorney-client relationship without a full reliance on the attorney’s work and advice.
So, how does a client come to reasonably trust his attorney so that he can rely on his advice and make good decisions in his case? Consider a number of ways to make that determination.
First, consider the attorney’s reputation. Admittedly, reputation is subjective and depends on the person you ask, but it can be helpful. For example, in criminal cases, defense attorneys may be disliked among some police and prosecutors because the defense attorney’s job is to test the credibility of, many times, public employees, such as police officers. If you challenge the credibility of a police officer, prosecutors can take this personally because police and prosecutors are a sort of team.
To challenge police is, in a sense, challenging prosecutors themselves because prosecutors rely on the testimony and investigations of police to prosecute crimes. Naturally, prosecutors who file criminal charges based on the work of police will resist any notion or claim that police or their investigation is unreliable and incredible.
So, if a defense attorney has a not-so-good “reputation” among prosecutors or police, this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Just the opposite: it may be the kind of defense attorney a person needs who is being prosecuted by the government. So, as they say, consider the source when learning about an attorney’s reputation.
Second, consider the attorney’s prior work for other clients. Most of the time, a potential client does not have the ability to conduct an investigation into the prior cases of an attorney, but the client can inquire at a consultation of the attorney’s prior cases and ask how he handles his cases. The attorney should be able to give examples of how the attorney puts his client’s interests before his desire to be liked by everyone in the legal system.
The attorney should be able to point to specific cases where the attorney had to challenge the government (or opposing party) for his client, even where it causes those in government or in the legal community not to like that attorney for his zealous representation of his clients. If the potential client can see that the attorney holds his client’s interests in the highest regard, he will be more likely to trust the attorney and what he advises during the case.
Third, consider the attorney’s forthrightness in assessing the case. Most people seeking legal advice want to hear the attorney tell them that they are right in every regard and that there are no weaknesses in their case. This is hardly reality. In almost every case, there are weaknesses that could have a negative impact on the client’s case.
An honest attorney will assess the case from an objective standpoint and inform the client of the hurdles and possible outcomes. A trustworthy attorney is not necessarily one that tickles the ears of his clients but is rather one who tells the client realities that the client needs to hear, even though it may cause the client to find another who will be less than objective in his analysis.
Fourth, consider any ethics complaints and determinations made by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. These determinations may not be a tell-all of the attorney because we all make mistakes and even judges can judge incorrectly. But the complaints may reveal the character of the attorney where the determinations involve the honesty of the Attorney and how he treats his clients.
Fifth, consider the attorney’s community involvement. With whom does the attorney associate or identify? If the attorney’s primary associations do not reflect that he identifies with the community in common or reflect that he prefers only the rich and powerful, it may be an indication that his goals in life have more to do with his desire to be successful than it does looking out for ordinary folks who simply need an attorney to identify with them and their plight and to fight for their cause.
Sixth, consider the number of trials the attorney has tried. Trials are very hard and exhausting. Many attorneys do not like going to trial for that reason and will attempt to avoid them if at all possible. If the attorney has no record of going to trial to fight for his clients, it may be an indication that the attorney will always advise his client to settle simply to avoid the hard work of going to trial.
Seventh, consider how the attorney attempts to keep the client involved in his case. Practicing law is a mixture of art and science because it is based on knowing the law, how the legal system works and how human nature affects the perceptions of all people involved. If the attorney works hard at keeping his clients informed about the case given all of these factors, it may be an indication that the attorney wants the client to be as well equipped as possible to make a good decision and not simply based on what the attorney says is a good decision.
Eighth, consider how the attorney listens to you. If the attorney thinks more of himself than he does the client, it may be an indication that the attorney’s primary interest is not the client.
In conclusion, the best way the attorney-client relationship works is for the client to trust the attorney and the attorney to honor his duty of loyalty to his client. The client should conduct as much of an inquiry as possible when choosing his attorney. The above considerations are a number of ways to do that.