What makes a lawyer good?

I’m sure the answer is money somehow, but I’d like to know the details.

Case in point, I got into trouble a while ago and was so worried about it that I went and got an expensive lawyer. Fortunately, he did what he said he would do and got me off.

The thing is, throughout the whole process, I really didn’t have much indication that he was a good lawyer other than:

  1. His webpage came to the top of the local google search
  2. He was really expensive
  3. He said he was a really good lawyer

Literally, this is what I had to go off. So I’m sitting here wondering, “what makes him so good?” "Could I have got the same verdict with someone cheaper, and how would I know?

A good lawyer is one who can get a charge of sodomy reduced to following too closely.

And how are we supposed to know a lawyer can do that beforehand?

What service are you looking for? I am a good litigator, but transactional work is not really my thing. Tax, Appellate, Constitutional and Commercial work, I am good in, family and crime, well I can do itm but I don’t accept many briefs on those.

A Good Lawyer is one that is honest to the point that they can explain, why or why not, they would be a good choice for your particular case, in simple easily understood terms. If they can’t explain the potential downside of hiring them personally. Walk on.

Complete and utter lack of morals and, preferably, no soul.

Might as well ask what makes a politician good.

I don’t know, I think they all suck. I’ve needed them three times.

The first was a public defender, and I had to pay $200. Think green leafy stuff back about 20 years ago, and underage transportation of alcohol. He was cool, he even did the DA dance for my girlfriend, who didn’t have a lawyer, she was over 21 at the time and didn’t qualify for a public defender since she didn’t have a chance of actually going to jail. We both had to pee in a cup, and $100 in court fees.

The second one if you discount the sales pitch to take a simple thing to a jury trial, he made about $100 a minute, and did what I needed him to do. He stood there, they knew who he was and that I was well represented. I got what I deserved, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t the example, though I did get slammed with the court and probation fees.

Third, tax thing, a state I hadn’t lived in in 5 years decided I owed them income tax. Sent them all the proof in the world that I didn’t and hadn’t lived there in 5 years. Finally got a lawyer, that was a waste of $1000. He didn’t do shit, billed me for 6 hours, and all he did was tell me what the FAQ’s on the state web site said.

One way I heard to find a good lawyer, call up a lawyer that you know has absolutely nothing to do with what you need. When they tell you they can’t do what you need, ask for a recommendation for a good lawyer. They figure you’ll need a divorce attorney or a real estate guy eventually, so they don’t want to steer you wrong.

A good lawyer is buried 8 feet deep rather than 6 feet deep. Because deep down they are really good. Being dead first helps.

But seriously, you want a lawyer with a lot of experience in the area of what your problem is.

Denny Crane!

As to your first question, the answer is probably, and as to your second, well, you’ll probably die wondering.

Many legal issues are straightforward and the same result is going to be achieved whether you use someone very good or only acceptable. Also, often a good lawyer is useful not because you will need their talents but because you might. You may turn up at court and find the judge in a good mood and the opposition peaceable and you could be represented by an illiterate, ineloquent boyscout and get a good result. Or you may turn up at court and find the judge feeling cantankerous and the opposition ready to blindside you with something unexpected and it is then, when everything is turning to shit, that a really good lawyer will be sufficiently smooth and well prepared that he or she will earn his high fee.

Can you judge a lawyer by their prices? Not infallibly. It may well mean something, on average, but I know expensive lawyers that I wouldn’t use for myself and cheap lawyers who are extremely good (few of the latter, though).

There is no general method for determining the issue.

Really, to judge whether a lawyer has done well or not in any given case is something that can only be judged by other lawyers (or laymen with good knowledge of the subject) who know the full detail and know whether the result was humdrum or exceptional in the particular circumstances.

I suppose the determination of whether an attorney is good or not is as individual as the situation and the expectations. Someone coming in to the court for their 6th suspended license violation is generally aware that success from their perspective is not having to do any serious jail time. A person facing their first charge is looking at the court proccess from an entirely different perspective.

As a court administrator in a small municipal court, I would definitely say that the amount of money shelled out for attorney fees is not really the best indicator of whether an attorney is any good.

A good attorney is one who understands and is familiar with the court that they are going to be appearing in. Every court has different procedures and a good attorney will recognize that and will work within the rules instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

Ultimately, a good attorney is one that will work their ass off to try to reach whatever measure their client considers success, but is honest enough to tell said client when the resolution (or offer) is the best they’re going to get.

So the answer to your question is, you may well have gotten the same (or even possibly better) deal with a less expensive attorney. There really isn’t any way to answer the second question…

Well, Martindale-Hubbell does peer review ratings. Not much range to them, though. Most layers get either an AV or a BV rating. At the top end, in my experience, the ratings are not that reliable. (I.e., there are a lot of lawyers who have “AV” ratings who maybe don’t deserve them.) However, at the bottom end they can be useful. If a lawyer has a BV rating, I might look for different representation in an important matter, and if a lawyer doesn’t even rate a BV I would steer away entirely.

(The reason the ratings are not that reliable is that Martindale-Hubbell makes more money if more lawyers get AVs, because M-H then offers to help lawyers market that superior rating…for a fee of course.)

You should also check with the State Bar Association of your state. If a lawyer has been disciplined for unethical behavior, that information should be available through the State Bar.

Beyond that, sadly, it’s kind of hit-or-miss. I recommend asking friends if they know a good lawyer. (One they’ve actually done business with, not just a buddy who’s a lawyer.) Ideally you want to talk to someone who’s seen the lawyer in action.

Aside from the lawyer’s talents, you want to ask about his billing practices. Some lawyers have no conscience when it comes to billing.

You’ll want to ask the lawyer himself/herself whether they have any experience in the particular matter you need them for. Gauge their response carefully.

It depends upon what you need him/her for. If it is a criminal matter, you need a guy who has a record of getting people acquitted. If it is a tax matter, you need a tax expert. For divorce, most states have pretty elaborate codes, so sombody who is familiar with divorce is OK. As for how hard they will “work” for you, how much money do you have?
OJ Simpson got off because he had lots of money, which boght him a team of experienced, aggressive lawyers.
Whether you are exonerated or not has nothing to do with being guilty or innocent-it mostly depends upon the quality of your representation.

As much as I would like to think that it is all because of me, in real life I am a lawyer, not Harry Houdini. If the evidence is there, then having Perry Mason, Johnny Cochran, William Garrow and Lord Erskine as Counsel will not work in your fabvour.

A good lawyer also knows his/her limitations and won’t accept a case in an area of law with which he/she is not familiar.

Martindale-Hubbell is a good starting point, though there’s not much upside to M-H in a lot of fields (such as civil defense, though you’re unlikely to be picking your own lawyer if somebody is suing you) so most lawyers don’t enroll.

Most state bar associations have board certification procedures in the big fields.

At the very least, you can see if a lawyer is bad by checking his bar association discipline history.

Part of it is that a “good” lawyer should be good at cutting to the core of an issue and quickly determining what arguments are going to be the most persuasive. A cheaper lawyer might be able to get you the same result, but they might end up taking a lot longer to get there, which may end up drawing out the proceedings and costing you more in legal fees in the long run.

I think I need to post this on my Bar’s website AND notice board.

I’ve been impressed with two lawyers because they were good communicators. They kept in touch, answered phone calls and e-mails, provided copies of everything filed in the case, sent monthly statements with details of how the retainer was being spent, and when both cases ended without having to use the entire retainer, they returned the money promptly, without being asked.

I was also impressed with the attorney who handled my brother’s estate. I was executor but since I live out of state, I delegated to my son. When my son did something the attorney had expressly told him not to do (disbursed some of the money), she immediately withdrew. I’m thinking “You go girl!” and “Damn kid!”. The next lawyer hired took forever to get anything done and cost a small fortune.

You mean it is actually legally permissable to work outside your expertise?