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Lawyer Bait and Switch

You’ve finally done it. After searching online, asking friends, family and other lawyers and conducting countless interviews, you have finally located the best lawyer in the world. He or she is smart, charismatic, personable and seemTrapdoors to know the law backward and forward. How can you lose with this lawyer on your side?

Fast forward six months later. An associate attorney in the same firm is sitting across from you explaining why your case is unraveling. All the while you are wondering whether this person even graduated from law school.  How did you go from hero to zero without so much as a simple explanation?

There are several legitimate reasons your lawyer might refer you to another lawyer: the other lawyer has a lower billing rate making cookie cutter work more affordable, the other lawyer has a special expertise outside the capability of your original lawyer, et cetera. However, one reason your lawyer might have brought in another lawyer to represent you is economics.

Some lawyers are lawyers while other lawyers are marketers. Unfortunately, there are a lot more lawyer/lawyers than marketer/lawyers. This places a huge premium on marketer/lawyers. While a great marketer/lawyer has no problem developing enough business to keep himself or herself busy, there is a limit to how much work one lawyer can do. Realizing this, and the fact they do not want their $200/hr lawyer/lawyers aimlessly pacing the halls with nothing to do, typically compensate marketer/lawyers for assisting lawyer/lawyers in finding work.

While a marketer/lawyer can only generate so much income billing legal work, there is almost no limit to the amount of income a lawyer can generate developing business for the other lawyer/lawyers in the firm.

So how do you know whether you are getting a new lawyer because it is best for you or best for your original lawyer? The easiest way is to discuss this issue with your lawyer before you hire him or her. Ask them if they will be your attorney for the duration of your engagement. Ask them what percentage of the services do they anticipate billing themselves. Ask them if they anticipate the need to bring other attorneys in on your case. If the attorney indicates other attorneys might be needed, ask to meet with those attorneys as well. Finally, ask if the lawyer has a direct number you can use in the event you have any questions.

Your lawyer’s responses to these questions should give you a fairly clear idea as to whether you are hiring a marketer/lawyer or a lawyer/lawyer. The key is to meet with the lawyer who will actually be handling your work before you hire them. Getting dumped on a lawyer you have never met is no way to start a productive attorney/client relationship. If the lawyer you hired has no interest in actually being your lawyer, you should probably be very interested in finding a new lawyer.

Brett Trout

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