Using an Attorney Effectively

January 12, 2015

My 57 years are showing, for now I have to scroll through posts to make sure I’m not repeating myself too badly. Alas, I find no post about using an attorney effectively.

Attorneys can be sliced and diced in many ways. Most of us are specialists of one sort or another, using the notion of specialization in a very elastic way. (Arizona ethics rules do not permit an attorney to claim he or she specializes, absent being a Certified Specialist in one of the State Bar’s eight specialization categories. So, think, “focus” or “practice area,” for no one wants a bar problem.)

My reach is broad, touching on estate planning and probate, real estate, business, and representing attorneys with bar problems. What matters right now, though, is the fact that I advise, handle transactions, and litigate. Not so unusual in Tucson; not so common in bigger places.

So … what? Three Four things! First, use an attorney who knows the subject matter area. If you have a business issue, your cousin’s worker’s compensation attorney should not be helping you. If a relative—not you, of course—has gotten in trouble with the law, the attorney who handled your divorce should not be your go-to guy! (I’m not suggesting that you can’t call an attorney you know for a referral, and attorneys do stretch a bit from their comfort zones, but having an attorney with expertise about your problem really does matter. Lots.)

Second, the best attorney is not necessarily right for your matter. I get “I want the best” as a request often, and it’s usually driven by ego. The “best attorney” may not be right for your matter if it’s not very complicated, or where it involves a small amount of money. In those instances the “best attorney” for you may, in fact, be a younger attorney with good work habits and time to attend to you.

Third, dealing with matters on the front end almost always saves money on the back end. I get lots of calls about problems that result from non-existent or poorly drafted agreements. I have had situations in which clients enter into business deals with people they don’t like or trust, thinking a written agreement will solve their problems. I see homemade wills and trusts, and plenty of trusts that are properly drafted and never funded. (The assets have to be titled in the trust, or the trust owns nothing and might as well not exist.) And, even in 2015, I still see deals in which both sides think one attorney should be able to handle the matter because, after all, it’s just a contract!

Finally, while you need an attorney with the knowledge and time to attend to your matter, and you want to deal with issues up front to avoid bigger problems later, what you need most from an attorney is judgment. In Yiddish the term of choice is seykhel, which can mean “intelligence, smarts, brains, reason, common sense, cleverness or even wisdom.” (Yiddish words are flexible.) Jews do not have a hold on seykhel, by the way; you’ll find it here and there, irrespective of heritage. The attorney with seykhel knows plenty, but the essence of seykhel involves understanding what really does and does not matter. Whether you call it judgment or seykhel, it comes with experience, although the occasional youngster has plenty, and there are many, many “gray hairs” who will never have an ounce.

Professionals cost plenty. Using a professional unwisely can cost much, much more than the fees you paid, and a “do it yourself” approach rarely works out well if “it” matters at all. In sum, then, be wise about your choices and take matters that matter seriously! And, as Hillel the Elder might say now, “all the rest is commentary.


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