Litigation is rarely open-and-shut. That means, picking a lawyer is sort of like picking someone you want to marry: you’re in for a long haul, it’s up close and personal, and that person has some serious control over your financial health. I get a lot of new clients who have realized they and their previous counsel weren’t a great fit, and they developed relationship regret.
“Fit” isn’t necessarily a commentary on the quality of your lawyer. Let’s be honest: as a layperson, you’re probably not in the best position to know whether or not the lawyer you’re about to hire is very good. No insult intended… how are you supposed to know if the legal advice you’re getting is good or bad? That’s why you’re hiring a lawyer! Rather, in picking a lawyer, recognize what you can realistically pick for, and what you can’t. “Fit” is more about whether or not a lawyer is right for YOU.
One good way to select for quality is to meet up with lawyers who were specifically recommended to you by people you trust: friends, family, colleagues. A lawyer who retains the good professional opinion of their client after a long or grueling litigation file is probably a decent bet. Did the lawyer in question handle the file in a sensible and practical way? Did they know which battles were worth spending time and money on, or did they turn every little disagreement into a court application? Did they stay calm under fire, or did they head for the hills when the going got tough?
Another good way is to interview a number of lawyers before making your decision. Most lawyers will offer a complimentary or low-priced initial consult to new clients. See what sort of advice you get, and how it’s delivered to you. At the end of your interview process, which lawyer did you feel was the best fit for you?
There are a couple things to look for, in my experience. First, and most importantly, did you feel comfortable with the lawyer? Did they speak to you in language, in terms, that you understood, or did they pepper you with self-aggrandizing statements, or legal gobbledegook? The way a lawyer communicates with you in that initial consult is an excellent indicator of how they will communicate with you throughout your legal matter. It won’t help you much if the advice you’re getting sounds like a gatling gun of Latin or legalese. How are you supposed to make good decisions if you can’t understand what the heck is going on?
Dress and hourly rate aren’t, in my experience, necessarily correlated with quality. Trust your gut, not the price tag.
All in all, your lawyer’s value to you is subjective, and personal. Do you feel confident in your lawyer? Do you understand them when they communicate to you? Do you feel their rate is reasonable? Does the lawyer make you feel comfortable? Good! Then hire THAT person. Don’t just hire the high priced, smooth-talking mumbo jumbo lawyer in a fancy suit because you think they must be better.
And, if you realize you made the wrong choice, then consider getting a divorce, so to speak. Don’t labour along in a relationship that isn’t working just because you feel like it’ll be too expensive or too much hassle to end it. Coincidentally, that’s usually also my advice to family clients 🙂
Jo McFetridge is a family lawyer, estates lawyer and business lawyer in Victoria, B.C., and has a virtual office in Terrace, B.C.