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Searching for Trust

How do you choose a attorney that is right for you? Just like you would choose any other attorney, a doctor, or any other professional upon whose skills you stake you life or fortune. Your choice should be based on trust. All other factors: cost, experience, responsiveness, character, knowledge, skills and ethics all relate to trust. If you trust your attorney, all of these critical concerns should resolve themselves. Why then do clients typically choose an attorney based up one or more of these other factors? Most likely because clients perceive that searching for trust is too difficult. Wouldn’t the least untrustworthy of attorneys cast himself or herself as the most trustworthy? Surprisingly, searching for trust takes less effort and returns superior gains when compared to most other factors. How then, do I find a trustworthy patent attorney?

The best way to find a trustworthy attorney is asking a similarly situated person or company if the trust their attorney. If you are a person, do not ask a company and if you are a company, do not ask an individual. Similarly, if you need a patent attorney, do not ask someone who is happy with their divorce attorney. When questioning others as to whether they “trust” their attorney you may receive a quizzical look at first, but if they do trust their attorney, they will proudly give you a name. Be sure to get the name of the specific attorney and not just the law firm. Just because one attorney in the firm is trustworthy does not mean the others have absorbed the trait through osmosis. Trust is an individual characteristic.

If you wish to investigate further, consider asking other attorneys. If possible, ask an attorney you trust on other matters. Be specific. Ask the attorney to be honest. Ask the attorney if they really “trust” the person to whom they are referring you, or if it is just someone they saw at a presentation or know from Rotary. Often, if you ask the attorney to do a little investigation and get back to you, you will get a much better lead than if you force them to pull a name off the top of their head. If you do not know any attorneys, you can check Martindale Hubbell. Martindale Hubbell provides a peer review service through which attorneys rate one another. Martindale Hubbell gives two ratings, the first: A, B, C, or nothing indicates judges’ and attorneys’ assessments of the attorney’s legal ability. The second rating is the award of a “V” if the attorney demonstrates faithful compliance with codes of conduct and ethics associated with the profession. Avoid any attorney not awarded a “V”. As for the first rating, an “AV” rating is the highest attainable, and serves as a pretty good indicator of at least a modicum of trustworthiness. Again, make sure the rating relates to the individual attorney and not just the law firm as a whole.

After selecting several attorneys using the foregoing criteria, it is critical that you make the final selection based upon your own assessment. The attorney that was right for your Aunt Jean may be a skillful and trustworthy attorney, but he/she may still not be right for you. Narrow the field to a set of trustworthy attorneys and then trust your instincts. Sit down with the attorney and ask some questions. The best fit should be apparent rather quickly. Here are some questions to get you started, but go with your instincts and ask the questions YOU want to ask:

1) Do you have experience working with cases like mine?
More experience generally translates into greater efficiency and lower costs.
2) What has been the outcome?
Ask for details. Poor results may be the result of difficult cases and good results may be the result of unrelated circumstances.
3) What are my best case/worst case scenarios?
Beware the attorney who attempts to frighten you with unrealistic worst case scenarios.
4) What are the likelihood of these outcomes?
A trustworthy attorney will likely be rather vague in giving too precise an estimate on outcome without investigating the facts
5) Where does my case appear to fall between these extremes?
Beware of an attorney that presents too dire or rosy an outcome.
6) What types of clients does the attorney usually represent?
Are they like you?
7) How long do you estimate this matter will take?

Beware of an attorney giving you a timeline far shorter than timelines offered by other attorneys.
8) How much is this going to cost?
A lower estimate is not always better. An attorney that consistently gives more optomistic answers than his peers may not have a realistic grasp of the case.
9) How often/quickly will I receive status reports on my case?
Attorneys should make themselves available on a regular basis to keep you updated on status. Attorneys should never keep you in the dark or fail to return phonecalls within two business days.
10) Do you charge by the hour or is there a possibility of a flat fee arrangement?
A flat fee arrangement is typically better, but usually only available in situations where the outcome is very likely and the attorney has done a lot of similar cases.
11) What is your hourly rate?
Do not go by price alone. Is the hourly rate justified by the attorney’s skills, or are you merely paying for massive office overhead.
12) Can I see a sample invoice of you services?
The invoice should include the time spent, broken down to at least the nearest tenth of an hour for each day. Be very wary of a wordy paragraph describing several days’ work associated with lump sum charge at the end.
13) Will you be the one doing all the work yourself?
It does not help to find a trustworthy attorney if he/she is going to have someone else do the work.
14) Are you interested in taking this case?
Try to judge the attorney’s honest reaction. If the attorney is excited about the case, this could translate into a cheaper, faster, better outcome for you.

Bear in mind there are no right or wrong answers. The answers merely give you the ability to compare attorneys with one another. Go with the answers like, but take into account the attorney’s demeanor as well. Does the attorney come across professional? Knowledgable? Skillful? Persuasive? These are all important traits when the attorney is engaging other attorneys, judges and juries on your behalf. Remember, searching for trust is easier than it seems. Do your homework and trust your instincts. It can be the difference between a costly disaster and a lifelong partnership.

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