How Can I Avoid Being Intimidated by a Lawyer?
by Jim Ballidis
You know you need to hire a lawyer! Some of you see a lawyer as an adversary, one you will control. This article is not for you. For everyone else, can you avoid being intimidated by your lawyer? Yes; by hiring the right lawyer – one that makes you feel important and listens to you.
In a recent study, a significant percentage of clients said they did not feel lawyers listened to their concerns or their opinions. Let my 35 years as a personal injury attorney suggest some strategies that can help you hire the right attorney for you.
What Should I Look for in an Injury Lawyer?
We all instinctively want to hire the powerhouse; the attorney who will advocate for us; someone who will not be intimidated by the other side and can speak up when necessary. Competence is only part of the search for the most effective lawyer. We will focus on the personality here.
I have practiced injury law for over 35 years in Orange County. I will share the qualities of the best lawyers, in my opinion, by sharing a little about me. I do this to educate you on the human elements that drive lawyers, which are important to your evaluation.
I grew up with a strong, dominant mother at the helm. My father died when I was young. I was raised to be independent, and self-sufficient. I learned to rely on my insight and hard work. Most importantly, I had a compulsion, almost an obsession to give others a voice, to defend and represent them as if I were them, instead of chasing my own purposes. Why do I have such a passion? I only realized recently that as a child, I was to keep quiet and do the work. It was not until later that I learned to have my own voice. That unique purpose made me a very effective, almost obsessive advocate for my clients. Law is an outlet for a voice I never had. It is a mandate for me that I must fulfill. That is very different from the lawyer making a name for him or herself, or the lawyer who is working for the fee. Neither will suit you.
The intention of my story is to inspire you to ask questions of the lawyer you are considering. Here are a couple of questions designed to learn more:
- Why do you do personal injury law?
- What do you like about your job, what do you dislike?
Is the lawyer listening to you at your meeting? If not, do not expect that to change.
Are you able to express ideas and hear an intelligent answer, or is it just “That is not the way it is?”
Can you identify with the lawyer and is the lawyer identifying with you?
Is the lawyer willing to be human, a bit vulnerable with you? If so, they are confident, unafraid of sharing with you, and as a result, you will discover more about them, as you discovered about me.
Are you able to relax a bit, and be yourself? Trust yourself and your instincts. It is so important to trust yourself! You are always right for you. I once told a client that she would choose the right lawyer. I was okay if she went to a competent colleague. She said, “Well, I picked the wrong husband two times.” I asked her if that was really true, or if she saw things that concerned her before trouble arose. She admitted she thought she could fix one, and another would save her. She knew. And she hired me because we formed a relationship.
Personality Types You May Not Want as Your Lawyer
I have met a lot of legal professionals in my years as a trial attorney, some more effective than others. Extraordinary lawyers are almost always intimately connected with their clients, able to convey their pain and elucidate every legal issue. My conclusion is that the most effective lawyers, by far, are the ones who truly understand you and themselves; who have a confidence that quietly builds credibility with the opposing lawyer, the insurance adjuster, the judge, and – if necessary – a jury.
On the other hand, let me share a couple of stories about personality types I don’t think work well.
The Bulldog: You know the type, and it does not have to be a lawyer. They are tough, hard-nosed, determined, and can be effective. However, more likely than not, their only successes are against less prepared and/or confident lawyers. As an example, I recall a defense attorney informing me that under no circumstances would they ever settle the case I worked on. Repeatedly he told me I was chasing a losing cause; he would try to intimidate me, the judge, and my client, promising some great catastrophe if we did not reduce our modest demand to almost nothing. He persuaded the adjuster to think the same way. It was my job to show him he was wrong, I could not shake this bulldog despite my best efforts.
More importantly, his attitude solidified my desire to show him he was wrong. While I continued to advocate a reasonable settlement, we were preparing to take him to trial. He absolutely refused to settle, and the tactics this bulldog took to try to dissuade my client could consume a book.
We went to trial in 2018, and his insurance company lost to the tune of $23 million – more than 38 times our settlement demand. Did he represent his client well? I see it all the time. You decide if that type of lawyer works.
The Milquetoast: In law, just as in life, I see lawyers who are too soft – not because they are compassionate, but because they have talked themselves out of success. Let me tap into your own personality for a minute. Don’t you have issues with your abilities that you tell no one about, issues in certain places where you lack confidence? A lawyer has those, too, but the milquetoast lets them win. They lose before they get started, because they do not have the confidence to succeed. They are not bad people; they are just in over their heads. Either they are in the wrong type of law, or the wrong job. Want an example?
I served as a pro tem (a temporary volunteer judge) for the Orange County Superior Court, and I was asked to meet two parties and see if a settlement was possible. After meeting both sides, it was clear to me why this case had not settled. The defense attorney was competent and confident. The plaintiff’s attorney was handling the case for his friend, and he was unfamiliar with personal injury claims. He was trying to settle, but did not have the tools. He knew it. As trial neared, I could tell he was uncomfortable going to trial. He was not an effective advocate. The case did not settle, and eventually, I learned he declined the case. A more experienced injury attorney took over, and fortunately, the case was resolved. This is not the attorney you are looking for, either.
Trust yourself, and interview your prospect like you would someone you are going to date. “So tell me, what are you all about?” Watch the magic.
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