The legal market is saturated with lawyers scrambling for clients; unfortunately customer service is rarely on the agenda. Beyond competence (most attorneys have this) and legal fees, a prospective attorney should also be evaluated on other levels such as personality, friendliness, communication style, listening skills, and willingness to go the extra mile.
Personality is hit or miss; if you just don’t seem to like the attorney personally and the legal relationship is intended to be long-term, then chances are high there will be conflict in the future. Rapport with your attorney does not guarantee avoidance of conflict, but it does provide a measure of comfort in that issues should be resolved quickly and without undue stress burdens so that the purpose of the representation may proceed as smoothly as possible. In my case, I do my best to retain an aura of informality and a casual tone with clients, because putting them at ease regarding the winding roads of the legal system is one my main priorities, as it should be for any attorney.
You should never retain a rude or unfriendly attorney with a crass or abrasive personality; this almost guarantees problems going forward. If your matter requires a crass or abrasive litigator then by all means, this type of attorney may work out for you, but in other matters the lack of an amiable demeanor will probably be a detriment to your project. Business law requires people skills; there is no way around it. Your project’s results may just depend on your attorney’s social aptitude.
Communication style is always a personal matter; some clients prefer the phone others email, whether short messages or long, and others still prefer communicating through postal mail. At this Firm, the goal is to leverage technology in such a way that both sides benefit with lower costs and time savings. Here we mostly use email and Skype to interact with clients, this allows a much faster response time, and if necessary a phone call will happen as the client may require.
Solid listening skills are rare these days, but if your attorney fails to listen to the details of your legal matter, he will forget them, neglect them, and fail to use them to your advantage. This may end up costing you extra by having to remind the attorney of important details, or it may cost you in a deal which failed to take advantage of an important detail which may have been a substantial benefit to you. To gauge your prospective attorney’s listening skills, at the initial stage you should ask whether the attorney understood your explanation of your legal situation and to restate it back to the client to ensure that all important details have been written down or otherwise recorded. If your attorney constantly forgets important details of your case and keeps asking you to repeat yourself, this is generally a bad sign.
An attorney is willing to go the extra mile if he understands and identifies with the imperative to get something done and how important it is to you. There is no guarantee that any project will be accomplished successfully, and no attorney would be foolish enough to guarantee a result, however there are different levels of effort which the attorney may utilize in moving a project forward. Some attorneys are content to let a matter lag and become stale from lack of communication and action on the client’s behalf, waiting for the other side to do something first. Occasionally this may be warranted; however, generally speaking an attorney can usually be proactive and put in extra effort to push a project to completion. Sometimes there is no other way to get something accomplished than aggressively and actively pushing it forward. At this Firm, actions are gauged to the needs of the client: if something requires ardent attention and regular action to ensure completion then this is how a matter is handled. Rarely do legal issues require an attorney to take the passive approach and let the other side take primary control of the matter.