Author: Jonathan Reed
Lawyer jokes arise in part because some people think some lawyers try to wrongly encourage people to get into expensive and unnecessary legal fights.
When I told one of my college science professors that I was going to law school he was clearly disappointed in me. He said, "My first wife and I spent a lot of money on lawyers arguing about how to divide our assets and one day we just looked at each other and said, 'Why don't we just divide this up ourselves and save all this money,' which we did."
Throughout 30 years of being a lawyer I have seen this pattern repeated again and again: People begin lawsuits all charged up about winning over their greedy, oppressive opponent and after experiencing the slow pace and high cost of litigation they get disillusioned and enter into a compromise that they could have had at the beginning.
How can you avoid this situation?
Unfortunately, in some cases your opponent is so unreasonable that you will need to hire a lawyer just to get a decent result, even if you are very reasonable yourself.
But, what if your opponent has made you an offer? How should you go about evaluating it? Here's one suggestion: Pay a lawyer for an hour or two consultation. I wouldn't even tell the lawyer the offer. I'd just ask the lawyer what he or she thinks would be a reasonable outcome. If you want a helpful opinion you are going to have to put aside any anger or negative emotions you feel toward the other side so that you can tell the lawyer what you think are the strong and weak points of each side. It might even be a good idea to pay two or three lawyers for such a consultation. Most lawyers will try to give you an honest evaluation. A minority may give you an overly optimistic evaluation in the hopes that you will then hire that lawyer to get the overly optimistic result (which probably won't happen, but will get you a big legal bill.) This is why it may be worthwhile to pay for more than one consultation. Keep in mind that if a lawyer impresses you as a super aggressive shark, that doesn't necessarily mean the lawyer will serve you well. Sharks are not fussy eaters. They often eat what is closest. A lawyer who is constantly harassing his opponent is often "billing the hell out of the client." What you pay in consultations might save you a lot more in the long run.
The reason I would consider not telling the attorney about any offer you have at the beginning of the consultation is this: Lawyers are competitive and if the lawyer makes an appointment to see you, the lawyer is interested in being hired on the case. If your posture in the interview is: "I have this offer; can you beat it?" even the honest lawyer's attention is diverted from approaching the evaluation with an unbiased mind to thinking, "If I can beat this offer I've got some lucrative employment." (Of course, if the case is fairly easy for the lawyer to evaluate and the lawyer is honest, knowing about the offer you already have may not matter. But not all cases are easy for attorneys to evaluate.)
Unfortunately, sometimes cases are very difficult to evaluate, either because the lawyer is not that knowledgeable in that area or because it is hard to predict how the fact-finder (the judge or the jury) will evaluate conflicting evidence. Therefore paying for a lawyer or two or three to evaluate a case for you may or may not give you clear guidance on what the case is worth. But, even so, it is often worthwhile to pay for some opinions before you embark on the litigation path.
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