10 Things You Need to Know About Retaining an Attorney
- Myth: The fact that an attorney has passed the state bar examination means that he is qualified to practice law.
Truth: An attorney only becomes competent in a particular area as a result of years of practice and experience. For most legal fields, it takes at least 10-years of practice before the attorney becomes competent.
- Myth: The best attorneys are extremely busy.
Truth: If you are unable to obtain an initial appointment with an attorney within 72-hours, it probably means that the attorney is already overloaded with work. Unfortunately, it is the business model for many attorneys to render mediocre legal services for many clients, rather than to provide first rate legal services for a few clients.
- Myth: A well-known partner at a law firm will do most of the work on my case.
Truth: At large law firms, the senior attorneys supervise junior attorneys; the junior attorneys supervise paralegals; and the paralegals supervise secretaries. The result is that most of the work at large law firms is not performed by the named partners, because their primary responsibilities are meeting with prospective clients and mentoring junior attorneys.
- Myth: An attorney who has an impressive office address and a well-decorated office must be successful and competent.
Truth: An attorney with a large monthly overhead may have a dysfunctional incentive to take on more cases than he or she can prudently manage and/or charge excessive hourly rates.
- Myth: An attorney with a prominent advertisement in a telephone book directory is proficient in his advertised fields.
Truth: Some attorneys are better at marketing their legal services than actually rendering legal services. One attorney in Montgomery County advertises that he obtained a multi-million dollar judgment for his client, but omits that his client never collected a penny on the judgment.
- Myth: It is impossible to determine whether an attorney is competent in a particular field.
Truth: You can determine an attorney’s competency in a particular field by asking for references and verifying that the attorney has successfully handled similar legal matters.
- Myth: An optimal outcome can be achieved by retaining a contentious attorney.
Truth: Attorneys who are charging by the hour will earn more by prolonging a dispute. A client may be able to obtain a better net result by entering into a favorable settlement early in the case rather than spending a small fortune on attorney’s fees.
- Myth: All attorneys charge a one-third contingency fee in personal injury cases.
Truth: The contingency fee charged by an attorney in a personal injury case is negotiable. For example, an attorney should voluntarily reduce his contingency fee when representing 2 or more clients that were injured in the same accident.
- Myth: All attorneys carry legal malpractice insurance.
Truth: There is no requirement in Maryland for any attorney to purchase malpractice insurance. It is always proper for a client to request that the attorney provide proof of insurance.
- Myth: A client cannot fire his or her attorney.
Truth: A client has the right to terminate the attorney-client relationship with or without cause at any time. An attorney who refuses to respond to a client’s communications should be terminated sooner rather than later.