Before reading, this blog is not only helpful for lay people seeking a lawyer, but also for lawyers looking for ways to improve. So if you’re a lawyer, read on because you can get some good tips from an experienced judge from Houston. I will first give tips to lawyers I learned from the judge I am referring to, then discuss my own recommendations to people attempting to determine what makes a good lawyer. As a person looking for a lawyer, you should also read carefully the tips given to lawyers and look for those qualities when determining who to choose as your lawyer.
I know picking a lawyer can be extremely difficult. On one hand, you are already likely in a very stressful situation. Whether it’s dealing with a divorce or custody case (which is usually the most stressful and emotional situation, defending criminal charges filed against you, or even a civil matter because you feel someone wrongfully violated your rights, dealing with any legal matter is not a fun experience to say the least. On the other hand there are other things you must consider like:
How much money will this cost? Who is the right lawyer for me? Will I be successful? How much time will this take? Will this affect my job? Will it affect my quality of life? Will this take away time I could spend with my family? And so on..
Those are absolutely valid concerns, and trust me you aren’t the only one dealing with them. Even myself, an experienced attorney who does this for a living, have had those same concerns as you when I have had to deal with a couple of legal matters myself. And yes, the money I spent was significant, let’s say probably a year’s salary of an engineer if not more, the time I spend on them was significant, a few years. Picking a lawyer is unlike any other profession. With most profession you can usually go back and check out their track record of success, but in the legal profession “success” can be too subjective and difficult to determine.
So any time I get a chance to help people in anyway I can in choosing the right lawyer, I try to do so as soon as I can. Recently I came across a post from one of Houston’s more qualified judges, Judge Michael Newman, about his personal advice to lawyers about how to not ruin a case. So I decided to share that with you and expand on it by giving my own recommendations in how to find the right lawyer and what to consider in hiring a lawyer. Here’s what Judge Newman had to say in numerical order: (I will end with my own recommendation in alphabetical order at the end)
1) Know your case (You’d be surprised how so many lawyers don’t even know all the facts to their case before a hearing),
2) Know the law, including civil procedure and evidence (Being a good lawyer isn’t about having the fanciest office/car/suit, it’s about knowing not only the law, but also rules of procedure. Without knowing the rules of procedure well, a lawyer won’t even get to argue the law);
3) Be professional and courteous to all (Unlike common belief, the meanest and most disrespectful lawyer will not be victorious in court. Even though you may like that your lawyer is attacking the other side and it may give you some temporary relief, it won’t result in a good outcome. It’s like trying to fix a tear in your skin with a band-aid; it may temporarily stop the bleeding but it won’t fix the problem);
4) Don’t mislead the court or jury (Usually the lawyers that have issues with tip #3 stated above, have this same issue. Let me tell you, Judges who preside over cases are not stupid. They know the law more than anyone else because they reside over all kinds of cases on a daily basis. Don’t try to trick them, it won’t end well);
5) Prepare your client and your witnesses to testify truthfully (Connected to tip #4, shouldn’t it be obvious? Again, it won’t end well. Be honest. Also, PREPARE YOUR CLIENT. After almost 8 years of practice, I am still shocked how many lawyers don’t even prepare their client for testimony);
6) Be gracious, humble, kind, and sincere (Re-read #3);
7) Prove what you say you intend to prove (“Judge I am going to prove my client was not even in Harris county at the time of the incident” but then spends the whole trial discussing whether the client knew about the incident);
8) Keep your cool and refrain from anger (Let’s be honest, dealing with a legal hearing takes a tremendous amount of skill and patience. How many times have you watched a trial, either real or in a TV film/series, and thought one side won only for the tables to suddenly be flipped? It happens all the time. Have a lawyer who can remain calm and patient. That’s what you hired them for);
9) Use short sentences and be succinct (listen, judges hear so many cases every day. They really don’t have time to listen to you moan and cry. Get to the point otherwise you will lose their attention).
Thanks to Judge Newman for those tips. Now let’s discuss some other recommendations I came up with in deciding what to consider in hiring a lawyer:
a) First and most important, read their reviews, but do not rely solely on this. We all know people can get fake reviews. Make sure they have a good number of reviews and it isn’t only from a few family and friends. Make sure they also have bad reviews. There are always going to be unhappy people and for a lawyer to only have good reviews, they are not being honest;
b) Call the office and see if they sound professional and friendly;
c) Talk to the lawyer that will be assigned to your case and/or the managing lawyer of the firm and make sure you are comfortable with them. A law firm is usually a representation of the managing lawyer. So usually if you feel comfortable with the managing lawyer, you should be fine with the lawyer assigned to your case;
d) Make sure they are responsive (Don’t expect them to be 100% on time in answering you. Lawyers never have only one case, they have other people they have to attend to also. You really don’t want a lawyer who only has one or two cases. But as long as they are reasonable in the time they get back to you, that would be good enough. I had a client who refused to hire me because I called her 10 minutes after the time I had given her for the free consultation. I was late because I had a consultation before that with a deaf individual and it took longer than expected because that person had to use a translator. I couldn’t just hang up on her. But the lady who I called 10 minutes late decided it was “already a bad sign, thanks pal”, without knowing why I called her 10 minutes late. She didn’t even give me chance to explain or apologize. Thankfully she isn’t my client);
e) How and when will you be able to contact them if you hire them? (Better to know upfront the times and methods of access you will have to the attorney. Can you text? Can you call their direct line? Are they available after hours? Weekends?);
f) What is their caseload? (Some lawyers accept any case that comes in the door and simply have too many cases to give effective representation to their clients);
g) How well do they dress? (Yes, although it’s not the most important factor, you don’t want a lawyer dressed in running shoes, purple pants, no tie, etc. Sometimes they show up to court like that, and I have seen on several occasions the judge kick them out of court);
h) Do they talk professional and assertive? (This goes back to some of the tips from Judge Newman I discussed above. Please re-read);
i) Do they offer a free consultation? (This one is on personal preference. Some lawyers want to make sure they aren’t getting constant calls from people seeking to get free advice without even considering hiring the lawyer, as it takes away time they could spend on more serious clients. However, I believe people should be able to do a free interview before deciding on choosing their attorney; it’s a big investment.)
I hope you enjoyed this blog. As always, If you are looking for a lawyer in Houston who handles family law, criminal defense, or personal injury cases, feel free to call or email me, Amir Tavakkoli, Houston attorney from the A.T. Law Office. My office phone number is 832-800-5590 and the email is firstname.lastname@example.org. While we primarily practice in Harris and Montgomery County, we also travel to other counties such as Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Ford-Bend County, Waller County, Brazoria County, etc. Contact the A.T. Law Office by calling (832) 800-5590 to schedule a a free consultation by zoom, by phone, or in person.