You should be aware of certain red flags when hiring a lawyer. If you walk into a lawyer’s office and notice any of the following red flags, run the other way:
- The lawyer’s office is filled with client files from floor to ceiling, covered in dust, and all names are visible. This lawyer is not particularly concerned about confidentiality or organization, and unless you know something that makes it worth tolerating that, this is not the best option.
- The lawyer’s staff is rude and unfriendly. They probably are unhappy, because the lawyer is probably a huge pain in the rear-end, and makes their life incredibly difficult, thereby necessitating them taking it out on the only people they see: the clients.
- The lawyer’s office is filled with photos of himself shaking hands with high-end politicians and the wealthy. Unless you are one of them, this lawyer will likely not value you all that much, as they are star-struck. One or two pictures are fine. Thirty-seven gilded frames of every politician and captain of industry in a 50 mile radius: not fine.
- The lawyer’s handshake is like shaking hands with a soft ball of melted Brie. Call me old-fashioned, but the wimpy handshake (yes even for a female lawyer) is a bad sign. You don’t want them putting your arm in a cast, but likewise you don’t want them quite that tepid either.
- The lawyer uses language that is offensive to you. What is offensive to you may not be offensive to someone else. Some people are very sensitive. When I get to know a client, I may be more colorful in my analysis of situations. However, in the initial meeting, unless the client opens the door for franker speech, I do not engage in it. That’s common sense. And ladies? If you think they are staring at your chest, you are probably right. I hear how some male lawyers talk. Yep. You are probably right. It may not end there. So unless you like that kind of thing, find someone else.
- The lawyer can’t string four words together in a sentence without changing direction. If they can’t make a clear argument to you about why you should hire them, they won’t be able to argue for you either.
- The lawyer gives you the creeps. You know what? You don’t have to worry about analyzing it. You are stuck with this person for six months or a year. You have to tell them your intimate secrets. If something about them makes the hair on your arm stand up…don’t talk yourself into discomfort.
- The lawyer’s online reputation is either non-existent or filled with bad reviews. Now, some lawyers are old fashioned and don’t have a website or social media presence. You can forgive that, particularly if they are over 50. They’ve run a practice a long time without it and they don’t need it to get their referrals. Fine. But it may also be a red flag that this person is disconnected from modern reality. Make sure you can email them. Yes, I’m serious…I heard of a partner of a major law firm who is a complete Luddite and refuses to accept email, only faxes. Not very convenient. Bad reviews on sites like AVVO happen. If you are doing any kind of volume you are bound to tick off someone sooner or later. But if every review is in capital letters, replete with the ending AND I RUE THE DAY I EVER MET HER, there might be a problem.
- The lawyer is condescending to you. That’s not going to get better, only worse. If they can barely contain their contempt of you in the initial meeting, you are in the wrong lawyer’s office.
- The lawyer is completely and utterly clueless about the law, and may even admit they have no idea what you are talking about. There are times when novel situations arise and a lawyer has to honestly say, “Let me look into that.” But if they can’t tell you what the divorce process is and they admit they have only, to this point, done landlord-tenant….not a good idea. I don’t care if your Uncle Alex said this is the best landlord-tenant lawyer he has ever known. She is not a divorce lawyer, and you wouldn’t hire a tree surgeon to take out your appendix would you?
–Excerpted from Lynda Hinkle’s book, Breaking Up: Finding and Working with a New Jersey Divorce Attorney.
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The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.