And a Simple Understanding of the Answers
Clients want to know at least a couple basic things when hiring an attorney - do they have a good case, how much will this cost, and how long will this take? Every client should ask questions before they begin representation. Having compiled some of the more familiar topics and questions I have encountered over literally hundreds of consultations and engagements with clients and potential clients over the years, I hope this sheds some light onto questions you wanted to know (but were too afraid to ask).
Why doesn’t my attorney just tell me whether I will win or not?
It depends on what you consider winning. The truth is almost every case is settled before the trial. You should be wary of any attorney who guarantees any result. If an attorney ever promises you a win, get it in writing. Your attorney went to Law School, not Fortune Telling School. No attorney should make such promises, of course. The correct answer to most questions regarding the law, or legal issues is – It Depends! Lawyers thrive on ambiguity, it is where the arguments are won and lost. It is the attorney’s primary responsibility to talk frankly with you of the potential advantages (and pitfalls) of your case, what they believe is a reasonable strategy and general estimates of costs involved. This initial assessment of any case is based almost entirely upon what a potential client tells the attorney or shows them. Reasonable estimations of outcomes based upon experience are one thing, however, litigation is always uncertain, no matter how strongly you believe the facts of your case.
How Long Does A Court Matter Take?
Given unlimited time, resources and organizational skill, most people can do what a lawyer can do – there is no magic. A pro se party, however, is tasked with the same knowledge that attorneys are - no sliding scale. There is a vast amount of practical know-how that goes into each case – how to prepare a complaint, how to answer a complaint, how to file a motion, what to say, how to present it, what procedural rules apply, when do they apply, how to present an argument that is factually and legally sufficient, how to interact with the opposing party, how to conduct discovery, how to answer discovery, how to conduct a trial, knowing the rules of evidence, etc. The practice of law is laden with formalities, intricacies and pitfalls that trip up even the most astute practitioner. What you pay the attorney for is the shortcut to learning all the substance and procedure necessary to get your case properly heard.
Can you tell me how much this will cost?
Sometimes. Since most attorneys charge an hourly amount for their services, often the retainer is simply the attorney’s initial estimate of how much time may be necessary to commence the case and proceed to a certain point, based upon the facts as best they know at that time. This is usually not the final amount to complete the case through the end. Many, many factors go into how much time it will take to complete any given case, the number of court appearances, motions filed, preparation for hearings, discovery gathering and disputes, depositions, trial preparation, trials, appeals, etc.
Ask your attorney about alternative options to litigation, including mediations, arbitration, administrative remedies, settlement conferences, etc.
Shouldn’t my attorney just do whatever I tell him/her?
No, quite the opposite. You should feel comfortable with your attorney, you should develop trust and report, but your attorney’s job is to skeptically analyze your matter so that he/she can best prepare for your case - not simply tell you what you want to hear. Hiring an attorney that agrees with everything you say will lead to severe blind-spots in your case strategy. Your attorney should challenge you, ask things of you, discuss facts that help your case, and those that may be harmful. That said, your attorney should always carefully listen to you and discuss the reasons for pursuing any particular strategy. There are many correct ways to pursue the same end goal – ask 5 attorneys and you are likely to get 5 different answers, or variations that are all plausible. However, spending your time or resources pursuing strategies that you believe are more beneficial than your attorney may prove to a mistake.
My (cousin/neighbor/friend from work) had the same case (1/5/10) years ago, and their attorney got X, and it only cost them Y?
Rarely are two cases identical. Laws change. Cases interpreting the laws are constantly evolving. If the practice of law like doing math, the outcomes would be more or less certain, and there would be less need for lawyers! Any small variation in the facts or circumstances between two cases might make a huge difference.
This means that not everything you feel is the most important is actually going to be most beneficial to your case. Discuss with your attorney the rationale he/she has for pursuing a particular strategy so that you may know what the ultimate objectives are, and why they chose to pursue that path.