Hiring a lawyer: Lion or Lamb?

A buddy of mine is a lawyer. He has handled a few minor items for me and all went well. He is very intelligent, and an overall nice guy. BUT he is a very mild mannered, laid back, polite to the point of ingratiating, kinda guy. He has discussed generalities of his case load and often seems overly concerned that things end up “right” rather than just “winning”.

If I were ever involved in a knock down/drag out kind of lawsuit I am afraid he would not “go for the throat” and win the case regardless. I could see him worrying about how my winning would effect the other party.

What kind of attorney would you rather retain?

I might think differently depending on my attitude toward the other party. In particular, depending on if it was some kind of honest dispute, or whether I felt the other party was really being a crooked predatory jerk.

In particular, if the other parts is, say, a big corporation, I’d have one attitude if there was seemed to be some dispute in good faith that just wasn’t getting resolved, versus if it was a big predatory money-grubbing company. Your premise in the OP of having a knock-down-drag-out battle seems to presume this sort of case. I would want a fire-breathing dragon lawyer.

If involved in a lawsuit I would want a ‘go for the balls’ type of attorney. It’s an adversarial process and I would have no reason to believe the other guy’s lawyer would be interested in a fair or just outcome.

You want a total shark. Preferably Jewish.

Also, most legal work isn’t trial work, or even preparatory to it.

My wife and I have scheduled a consultation with an attorney that does elder law, since we need to figure out the ins and outs of how we get her 88 year old grandmother into a nursing home when the time comes, what Medicaid will pay for and under what circumstances, what care Medicaid and/or the VA (granny’s the widow of a soldier killed in WWII) will pay for while she’s still living in her home, and what documentation we’d have to come up with for all of the above.

I don’t think we’d need, or even want, a pit bull-type attorney.

“There are those who will always confuse courtesy with cowardess, & politeness for weakness.”

This quote from Martin Lear came to mind. I’d like to think that your intelligent friend would be fighting all out to win your case for you if the need arose.

No insult meant, just posting a quote, Kayaker. I appreciate your wit and humor here on the SDMB.

Thanks! Fantastic quote. I’m writing that down to share tonight with my gf. I tend to agree with the quote, actually. My gf was questioning how my lawyer would behave in a courtroom after I shared with her the angst he had earlier shared with me over a case (if that makes sense).

I would think a lawyer with a loud conscience (like your friend) would be unlikely to agree to defend a client that they didn’t believe in. That would be an interesting question to ask him, actually.

You want both in one package, and your lawyer’s attitude is great, but he may be a real scrapper if necessary. For litigation you do want someone who can and will go balls-to-the wall for you, but keep in mind that usually makes things much more expensive.

In the South, some of the sharkiest, toughest, most aggressive lawyers are nice as pie until it’s necessary to fight. But don’t ever get a lawyer that wants to be aggressive just to defend his/her ego.

This may be a reflection of the areas he works in. In family law, this is probably a great attitude. In criminal law, it may just be that in most of one’s cases, winning isn’t a serious option, and the goal is to get the best deal possible.

More generally, different personalities can fulfill different roles. If I needed a license from the city to do something, I might want one kind of lawyer to schmooze the city board to get the license, and another kind of lawyer to sue the city if the license were denied.

The best Courtroom Advocates those who are soft spoken, courteous in manner, patient in outlook, thorough in preparation and who recalls that his ultimate duty is to justice. The boisterous legal brawler so beloved of fiction will not last a day in a real courtroom (mainly because everybody will be laughing at him).

I am a lawyer. While I am in no position to properly judge the abilities of your friend, from what you tell me, he seems a consummate professional.

I am a lawyer. Sharks are only impressive to lay people. Most lawyers will jump hurdles while solving math problems to get away from sharks.

If you need a lawyer who will only be dealing with lay people, i.e., juries, debtors, administrative agencies, then get an aggressive lawyer.

But if you need a lawyer who has to deal with judges and other attorneys, then find a nice guy. Be especially careful with criminal or divorce cases where most people assume they need a blowhard like they saw on TV. In reality 95% of those cases never go to trial. The attorneys in those fields spend most of their time dealing with other attorneys, court officials, and judges. The aggressive blowhards will get ignored, and the reasonable guys will get everything they want.

By definition, every lawyer who has to handle juries must deal with judges and other attorneys. So, a good litigation attorney can turn whatever attitude is necessary for whatever situation on and off like a light switch. As a lawyer, I use the term “shark” somewhat affectionately. My idea of an aggressive attorney is likely far from the public’s idea of one.

It is a rare exception for even evil, nasty lawyers to be rude in front of a judge. And, even in the most heated depositions where the judge is called, sanctions are threatened, questions are certified (back when that meant something) good lawyers shake hands when it’s over, and even have a drink together afterwards.

Neither a push-over nor a bully would be appropriate.

The person whom I would retain would be someone who can identify what can reasonably be attained and how it can best attained, and who has the negotiation and litigation skills to get the job done as efficiently and as cost effectively as possible.

The lawyer would have to know how to run the case using a varietey of tools depending on how the circumstances of the case change, rather than only run in one gear.

As far as the lawyer being concerned about what is “right” rather than just “winning”, bear in mind that the lawyer must be able to accurately predict the probability of the range of outcomes should the matter litigated, for the judge will be concerned about what is just and make a judgment accordingly. If the lawyer is not concerned about what is just, the lawyer will not be in as good a position as he or she should be when trying to anticipate what the judge will decide is just. By negotiating with a view to what the judge will decide, most matters can be resolved while saving a great deal of legal costs. By litigating with a view to what the judge will decide, one has a far better chance of winning.

Thanks guys! Interesting seeing your perspectives. And I feel much better now.

Another lawyer weighing in. If you have a lot of money to spend and time to waste, go ahead and hire the “go for the throat” guy. Your case will probably take twice as long, cost 3-4 times as much, and you’ll likely end up with a similar result to what you’d have gotten with a more reasonable guy.

As an example, I had a divorce case a few years ago. Parties hated each other. Wanted to fight about every damn thing…except that they both wanted the marriage to end. On Court day, as we were waiting to be heard, I took the guy out in the hall and told him…“look, if you really want me to, I will go in there and we can spend the rest of the day fighting over dishes, lamps, and television sets. You’ll end up with about half of that stuff, and you’ll pay me several hundred dollars to get it. Or, you can settle this thing, take the money you would have paid me to try it, and go buy yourself brand new stuff and this will all be over. Your call.”

The case settled.

$40,000 tab for fighting over interim/temporary possession of the children’s two $400 dogs.

When potential clients call me saying that they are looking for a real fighter, I think back to that case, and quite often tell them that I would not be the right lawyer for them, unless it is apparent that they are being truly grossly mistreated by the opposition. Life is too short to waste time helping bat-shit crazy litigants chew on each other’s shins, rather than helping regular folks solve their differences.

This is exactly what I was going to post.

Judges (in a judge-alone trial) and juries don’t decide the case on who was the meanest baddest fighter. They try their best to consider both sides, and to come to a fair result. A good lawyer will spend some time thinking about the fairness of his/her client’s position, and the strength of the opposing party’s case. If the lawyer isn’t thinking from day one, “How will this action by my client look to the judge?” I don’t think that lawyer is doing a good job.

There is a Supreme Court of Canada decision which I point out to fresh articling students: Whiten v. Pilot Insurance Co., 2002 SCC 18, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 595. The plaintiff in that case had a fire insurance policy with Pilot Insurance. Her house burnt down and she claimed on the policy.

Pilot’s lawyer advised the insurance company to oppose the claim; shopped among expert witnesses to get a favourable opinion; explicitly told the insurance company that the plaintiff was short of cash so he could squeeze her by spinning out the proceedings to force a settlement; in short, he was a ball-busting’ lawyer, out to do whatever he could to win the case for his client.

Fortunately for the plaintiff, she found a lawyer who was willing to take the case pro bono, and to run an eight week jury trial, arguing that the insurance company should pay out on the policy.

The jury found for the plaintiff and in addition to the award of $345,000 on the insurance contract, gave an award of $1,000,000 in punitive damages against the insurance company for their reprehensible conduct, in following the advice of their ball-bustin’ lawyer. The trial judge added on an award of $320,000 to cover all of the plaintiff’s court costs, which is quite unusual in Canada; costs are normally only a partial indemnity, not full indemnity. Total bill at trial for having a ball-bustin’ lawyer: $1,665,000.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the jury, including the million dollar award in punitives. They added on court costs for the Supreme Court appeal, not specified in the judgment.

Moral from my perspective: the ball-bustin’ lawyer is not the best option. It is an adversarial system, but taking a “win at all costs” approach is not good for the client (nor one’s own professional reputation!)

There was one criminal defence lawyer in my jurisdiction who was noted for being a bully in court - he would bully the police witnesses, bully the Crown witnesses, bully the Crown, even try to bully the judge. His clients apparently loved it - they wanted to see the Crown and the police get beat up by their lawyer.

It was said of him that he had the greatest percentage of satisfied clients of any lawyer in the province - even though they were in jail.