I’ve been an attorney in Michigan for 23 years. Along the way I have encountered clients who have misconceptions about what lawyers can and cannot do. Here is what every attorney wishes you knew.
And if you want to, you can skip all the words below and hear me rant about this on this week’s podcast. Same topic but you can listen instead of read. It’s up to you.
Here you go: 1) We don’t write the laws. We merely try to help clients navigate them. You don’t like the law you are accused of breaking? Don’t yell at me. I cannot do anything about the law itself - at least not any more than you - so until the law changes, don’t scream at me about how stupid the law is. Yes, we can talk about it on a theoretical level but I am not the proper target for your anger.
2) Attorneys are just as frustrated by the legal system’s inefficiency as you are. Many people think that attorneys love the way courts are slow and unpredictable and that we somehow make more money because of how slow courts are. The exact opposite it true. I’d rather be in my office working than sitting in a hallway for three hours waiting for a tardy judge to show up. Is there anything attorneys can do about it? No, sometimes waiting is part of life. While we wait, you can tell me all about how this is the first time you ever did this and how the officer should have cut you some slack.
3) A good attorney cannot win a bad case as easily as a good one. While attorneys on TV always seem to have cool tricks up their sleeves, the bulk of your case’s outcome may have been decided by things which happened before you even met your attorney. Yes, a bad attorney can lose a good case, but there is only so much rehabilitation I can do with your bad facts. The officer has dash cam footage of you leaning out the window of your truck, firing a rifle at the deer in your neighbor’s backyard? There are no legal shenanigans I can yank out of thin air to make this “go away.” I can get you a fair trial and I can do what I can to minimize the pain, but don’t get angry when you don’t get off scot-free.
4) We can’t afford to work for free. Those movies where an attorney takes a case to the Supreme Court pro bono and everyone wins in the end? Yeah, that’s Hollywood. Attorneys have phone bills, payroll, rent, insurance and a host of other costs attendant to running a business. I have helped people out and have cut my fees more times than I’d care to admit. I’ll also look for a way to recover your fees in the action if it is possible. Will you see me in front of the SCOTUS, arguing that your right to hunt from a moving vehicle “defines the intersection between the 2nd Amendment and a citizen’s Freedom of Movement”? Sure. If you pay me.
5) My good friend Adam Helmer reminded me of one: If you think you can “save money” by handling a case on your own, don’t be upset when we tell you how expensive it is to straighten the case out later. Every attorney has stories of the clients who resorted to self-help and dug themselves into a very deep hole before buckling and deciding to hire an attorney after all. I’ve got news for you: The mess you made of your case will be more expensive for me to resolve than the case would have cost originally. And that is assuming we can do anything for you.
6) And, that story you heard from a friend of a friend who said he “knows a guy who got off on these exact charges because his attorney knew the judge,” probably isn’t true. And if you think it is, HIRE THAT ATTORNEY. Maybe that judge and the other attorney often deer hunt from moving vehicles together? But the odds are, it’s one of those friend-of-a-friend stories that wouldn’t check out, even if you could trace it to its source.
Attorneys are people doing a job. The job may seem mysterious but that’s only because you don’t deal with us all too often. And if you do, that might be the root of the problem. But remember: We’re not the ones getting you sued or arrested. We’re the ones who come along later to help you navigate the system.
Follow me on Twitter: @stevelehto
Hear my podcast on iTunes: Lehto’s Law
Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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