Do you really want the cheapest lawyer?

I was in court yesterday with two of my clients. As we were waiting for their case to be called, we got to observe something that I have been seeing all too often – a lawyer that did not even know who his client was.

Over the last 20 years, I have seen so many changes in the legal profession. The number of law schools and graduating classes of law students in Michigan has skyrocketed, while our client base has seen its disposable income drop. More and more legal information is available online. And non-attorneys are more aggressively trying to carve into a market of services previously only provided by licensed attorneys. As a result, lawyers are changing their business models to do a higher volume of often lower quality work in order to keep their prices competitive.

You might think all of these changes are good news for consumers. I disagree. To demonstrate my point, please allow me to share what I witnessed in court yesterday.

An older, gentleman in a suit entered the courtroom about 30 minutes after the 9:00 a.m. docket had started. He sat down next to a younger woman who was sitting alone. He was disheveled and short of breath. He began to talk to her, and it appeared to me that he was her lawyer. Now, I prefer to meet my clients outside the courtroom and find a conference room to speak privately to review any concerns. But it is not unusual for a lawyer to meet his client in the courtroom. This is especially true if the lawyer is running late for court, as this gentleman was.

Then the case was called. “Case Number… Ms. X.” The gentleman stood up and walked forward. He looked back at the woman he had been sitting next to, motioned with his hand and said “Come on, Ms. X.” She stared at him and replied “I am not Ms. X.” The lawyer proceeded to completely embarrass himself. It was clear that he did not know (1) who his client was or (2) where his client was. No other “Ms. X” stood up in the courtroom after hearing the case called. Beyond this, it was also clear that the woman sitting next to that lawyer did not know who her lawyer was or where her lawyer was. He left the courtroom without the case being heard. I have to wonder what will happen next for his client.

My clients’ case went well. I am glad they got to see this incident. However, sadly when people are selecting a law firm, their decision is often based only on price. If you are shopping around for a lawyer to help you, I encourage you to take more into consideration than who is the cheapest. Ask him or her who will be assigned to your case, how his/her office will prepare you for your court date(s), who will represent you at court, and what experience that person has with cases similar to yours.

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