Its Not All Action, There Are Flurries of Activity and Periods of Quiet
Clients mistakenly believe that lawsuits are high action things akin to boxing, where they can watch and enjoy the immediate spectacle of their adversaries being taken down by the chivalrous aggressive attorneys they have hired. Hardly. A lawsuit is more like a slow-motion tennis match played over about one year's time, by nerdy bookworms. There are moments of action, followed by long periods of complete silence, then a few more drops of activity, followed again by long waiting periods. Most of the so-called drama is merely the prose and citations used by the bookish lawyers. Not very sexy or exciting. Keep in mind, the whole case can take a year or longer, and the trial is merely a small period of time near the end. Before the trial come the phases of initial pleadings, service of process, motions, case management conference, initial disclosures, expert witness disclosures, discovery requests, motions resisting discovery, and on and on. Each of these critical stages takes time and costs money. But they generate little excitement.
But My Lawyer Hasn't Done Anything Yet, and The Bill Is So High!
Clients often get mad at their own lawyers because there is no early impression of great progress or immediate pain inflicted on their adversary. This is the way the system works. Litigation progresses in very slow steps, especially at the beginning of a case. There is a great deal of preparatory work to do, and hence the bills are high. But the fireworks and sizzle don't happen until much later, and even then they are simply fizzles that occur from time to time as the case drags on. Remember, on TV a one year case gets compressed into an hour, which makes for interesting viewing. In real life, a one-year case takes, well, a year. Seasons change, the leaves turn, it snows, and your lawyers still are working on your case. It may seem that they have done nothing yet, or nothing recently. In fact, they are processing your case normally and awaiting all of the delays and phases imposed by the laws, the judges, and the adversaries.
Your impatience can cost you a fortune, and possibly cost you the case.
Frustrated with the slow pace of litigation, clients sometimes go speak with another lawyer for a 'second opinion'. Surprise! Many new lawyers will claim they can intercede, take over and do things faster, get quicker results. They scowl at the old lawyers' case theories and claims, snort at the number of hours and sweat the old lawyers have put into preparation of evidence, criticize this or that and pronounce grandly, that THEY can do it much better, faster and cheaper. How wonderful, the client thinks. Finally, an aggressive attorney instead of the turtle-like old firm! And cheaper too! They switch lawyers. Then, of course, nothing changes, except it takes the new lawyers an extra month or so of billing to get acquainted with the case, and they pick up right where the old lawyers left off, the new bookworms and nerds, locked into the exact same system of long delays and drawn out stages, which are in fact the rules of the court and the normal course of all litigation. But now they are getting your money. Lawyers love to steal clients this way. Remember, when you talk to an attorney, it is very often a sales job you are getting, and many are perfectly willing to commiserate with your frustration to get your business and begin billing you. Meanwhile, you look weaker in the eyes of your adversary, who has seen you change lawyers. The new guys rarely see the same nuances as those who set up the case originally, and you just might have a big fight on your hands with your old lawyers who resent your double-cross, and new lawyers who are spending hours merely talking it up with the old lawyers, either fighting about the theft of the client or arguing about the propriety of what has already occurred. Its a mess, it can cost you a great deal of money to change lawyers, and in some situations, it can cause you to lose a winnable case. If you truly have a poor lawyer, then by all means, change. But try not to blame your attorney for the phases and natural delays inherent in the system. You will only increase your billings and alienate your attorneys. If you are considering switching lawyers to The Vasilco Law Group, P.C., keep in mind that we will be under most of the same burdens as your previous counsel and will need time to get up to speed. Do not expect overnight miracles or rapid fire progress in the first few days or sometimes weeks. This is the justice system.
True Story: They Changed Lawyers, Won Anyhow and Paid Higher Fees.
We do not handle matters on contingency, so our clients pay us hourly from retainers. If they win, they keep all the spoils without having to pay us a percentage. Near the end of one case, our hourly clients wanted to stop paying us and 'go contingency' with another lawyer. We had worked over a year on the case and were getting prepared for the final depositions and trial prep. We urged them to stick with us, but they were running out of cash and thought they could get a quick victory cheaper by changing lawyers to a contingency guy. We let them go, resigned and a contingency attorney took on the case for a 25% contingency fee. He reduced it from the usual 35%-45% range since much work had already been done. The clients won over a million dollars at trial, but had to pay $250,000 to the contingency lawyer. Had they stuck with us, the additional hourly fees would have come to about $105,000. They lost almost $150,000 in the long run by trying to game the system and change lawyers. Be careful, don't make costly mistakes like this. If you are unable to pay for your case on an hourly basis, seek a contingency lawyer from the beginning. But beware, the contingency attorney has much more incentive to settle than you do, and he will be much less willing to respect and follow your wishes as to how the case should be managed.
Fired After Three Days. A Case Study In Bad Clients and Unrealistic Expectations.
Ever had trouble finding a lawyer to take over your case from your current lawyer? Its because the bar and insurance companies always advise attorneys to AVOID taking on a client who is trying to switch attorneys, since these clients are a high-risk source of bar complaints, malpractice claims and general trouble. And do you know what? Its true...substituting for a prior attorney is rarely pleasant, and a high proportion of the clients are intrinsically unreasonable or unstable people. For instance, a man hired us on a Tuesday afternoon to take over a major litigation. He fired us on Friday after not seeing enough 'progress'. We had not even had enough time to read through the case file, much less go on the offensive or file anything. This client had extremely unrealistic expectations of how the lawyers or the system works. We were delighted to show him the door. If you are considering switching lawyers, ask yourself if you, too, are expecting more of the system than it has to offer.