Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Top 13 Things Not To Say To An Employment Lawyer

You think you have a great case against your employer. You’ve done your research and have found an attorney you think is just right for you. You reach out to the lawyer and they say they aren’t interested. You try another. No go. What went wrong?

It may just be that you don’t have the winning case you think you do. But it might be something you said. There aren’t a lot of employee-side employment lawyers out there. There are fewer with experience. Most experienced employment lawyers are busy. While they certainly want good cases, that doesn’t mean they’re sitting by the phone waiting for you to call.

Here are the top things to say to get an employment lawyer to turn down your case, no matter how good it is:

This case is easy money for you: If it’s so easy, what do you need a lawyer for? Could it be the four years of college, three years of law school, and the years of experience in employment law? There’s no such thing as “easy money” in employment law. In fact, most employment plaintiffs lose their cases. Your lawyer will have to work hard for you. If the case settles early on, it’s probably because the lawyer has a good reputation and because they convinced the other side your case had merit. Don’t insult the lawyer off the bat.

I won’t settle for less than a million dollars: Good luck. Most employment laws have caps on your recovery. Even if there are no caps, few cases bring in the really big bucks. You’ve just told the lawyer you’ll be difficult and unrealistic when it comes time to talk settlement. In fact, most plaintiffs who refuse a settlement offer do worse at trial than if they had accepted the offer. The lawyer wants to know you’ll listen to them if they recommend a settlement.

They’ll settle to avoid the publicity: Yeah, right. Probably not. Many people think this, and it just isn’t true. I find sometimes the more the publicity, the less likely they are to settle. While it’s true that defendants who refuse to settle and lose average about a $1.1 million loss for their error, they also know that employment cases are tough. Your lawyer will have to convince the attorney on the other side that your case has merit. Plus, your lawyer can’t threaten to go to the media (or the police) about your case, because that would be extortion.

I’ve interviewed 10 other lawyers: Okay, why didn’t any of them take your case? Either your case is a turkey or you’re trying to play the lawyers against each other. If you come across as arrogant, you can turn off the lawyer and their staff. It’s fine to talk to other lawyers, but you don’t need to try to pit them against each other. When clients tell me about other lawyers, I usually tell them that the other lawyer would be a fine pick. The employment law community is a small one and we usually know each other.

The other lawyers I talked to quoted a cheaper price: Then hire them. If the lawyer you’re speaking to is expensive, it’s probably due to experience. If you want a less expensive lawyer, hire them. Don’t insult the lawyer’s rates by trying to beg for a discount.

My last lawyer tried to sell me out: Doubtful. If your lawyer worked on a contingency or partial contingency, it was in their best interest to get you the best deal possible. It’s more likely you were unrealistic about the merits of your case and the settlement amount your lawyer suggested. If you were difficult to deal with for one lawyer, why would another lawyer want to take over? If you’ve been through multiple lawyers, it might be you, not them.

Your staff told me _____: I sit right next to my office manager, who handles incoming calls, and it’s funny what potential clients try to tell me she said to them when I’ve heard her side of the conversation. Whether they claim she told them the wrong fee, something incorrect about their case, or anything else I know she didn’t say, that person now has zero credibility with me. Don’t try to convince the lawyer you were told there was no fee when there was, a lower fee than was quoted, or anything you know isn’t true. Your lawyer needs to trust you. If you prove you’re a liar before you walk in the door, odds are they won’t be interested in your case.

I want a pro se lawyer: What you’re asking for is free work. You should probably talk to Legal Services or Legal Aid. Being a lawyer isn’t a hobby. Most of us would rather spend time with our families than be in the office. We practice law to pay our mortgages and other bills. You wouldn’t ask a doctor to work for free. Why do you expect a lawyer to? While some lawyers offer free consultations, most don’t. Many legal services are done on a flat fee or hourly rate. Contingency work is where the lawyer takes a percentage of the recovery. Even on a contingency, you’ll probably be responsible for any court costs (filing fees, court reporter fees, mediator fees, etc.) If you want a lawyer who works on contingency, ask if they do. Just don’t ask them to work for free.

I know you told me the fee on the phone, but I just wanted to talk to you first: Try that one with your doctor. If you were quoted a fee, don’t show up and waste the lawyer’s time by trying to talk them down or into working for free.

I forgot about my appointment (or my car ran out of gas, my dog threw up, and any other lame excuse for a no-show): If you can’t be bothered to respect the lawyer’s time, then don’t expect them to be interested in you as a client. They will assume you’ll also be AWOL at depositions, hearings or even trial. The lawyer set aside their valuable time to meet with you. Don’t no-show. If you decide to cancel, tell them so they can fit someone else in.

I didn’t fill out the questionnaire: I’ve even had some potential clients refuse to give me the name of their company and, in one notable instance, the client’s name. The lawyer has a questionnaire for a reason. It’s not busy work. Do your best to answer all the questions. You wouldn’t tell a doctor you don’t need to fill out your medical history, would you? (Okay, one potential client who was never an actual client for obvious reasons told me he refused with his doctor too).

I lost all my paperwork (or didn’t bring it, or have it here wadded up in this garbage bag): If you have documents the lawyer asked for or that you know are vital to your case, take care of them. Bring them to your appointment. Organize them so you can find what you need. If you can’t be bothered with your own evidence, why would any lawyer want to spend time on your case?

I’ll do the work for you: You show up with 20 binders, 10 of which are legal research. You tell the lawyer you will do the legwork and the research. You just need someone to sign the pleadings. When did you graduate from law school again? While most lawyers like clients who are involved in their own case, don’t insult the lawyer by telling them you know better or can do just as well as they can. If you’re Mike Ross from Suits (genius fake lawyer on TV), then represent yourself. Otherwise, let your lawyer handle the case.
If you want to hire a lawyer, be respectful. Treat them like a professional. Be nice to their staff too. If the secretary warns the lawyer that a potential client is going to be a PITA (figure it out or Google it), you probably won’t get in the door.

Once you hire a lawyer, you should do your best to maintain a good relationship. It’s amazing how many people think it’s a good idea to be nasty to their own lawyer. This is the person whose advice you want to follow, and you want to alienate them? Would you be nasty to your doctor and your accountant?
If the lawyer asks you to provide documents, write a statement, respond to discovery requests, attend a deposition or hearing, then do it. They can’t help you if you won’t help yourself.

If you find yourself doubting what your lawyer is telling you, get a second opinion. If you stop trusting the lawyer you hired, get another one. Just make sure the problem is them, not you. A recent study says half of all employment law plaintiffs thought their lawyers were incompetent or worked against them. Could it be that some of those plaintiffs were unrealistic from the beginning about the costs, merits, and settlement possibilities in their cases?

With some research and cooperation on your part, I hope you will have a good experience with your employment lawyer. Good luck!

11 comments:

  1. ok, you started out my day by putting a big grin on my face with this one, Donna. ahhhh, the trials and tribulations of private enterprise, huh? lol

    these are the times the title of this blog fits the lawyer or the owner, in this case, not the client. lol

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  2. Glad you enjoyed it Griper! Some of these are funny, but you'd be surprised how many people actually say them. If I didn't have a sense of humor about it, I'd indeed have to shout out my blog title.

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  3. Couldn't have said it better myself.

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    1. Thanks Marcus. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  4. Can we have permission to reprint this as a handout for our prospective clients to read when they show up for the intial interview - or send it to them beforehand?

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    1. You're serious? Sure, as long as you print so my blog header and my book cover are included.

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  5. Great article and it applies across the board for Plaintiff attorneys, not just in employment law.

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  6. Thanks mwoodward! Sorry to hear that it's not just us.

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  7. They all sound so very familiar.

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  8. Hi Samuel. Yes, it sounds like lots of lawyers hear these same things.

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  9. A reader points out to me that I should have said "pro bono lawyer" instead of "pro se lawyer." That is correct (although clients say both interchangeably). I think if I edit this that it will republish, so I'll leave this comment as my correction. Thanks for pointing it out to me Anita!

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