It is a new year and many of us have made resolutions about what we wish to accomplish. It might be to set up and register a company, change aspects of your personal life, or to address certain niggling issues that you have avoided over time.
It may be that this is the year that you want to take legal action to address a dispute. It may simply be that your resolution is to employ the services of a lawyer before taking any big decisions in your life and business. Whichever is the case, you need to decide on a lawyer, if you do not already have one. A lawyer holds a lot of power in your life; your lawyer can save you money, or cost you money. In addition, your liberty may be affected by the competence of your lawyer. It is therefore imperative that you choose wisely.
We know of lawyers through their reputation either in the media or just generally, in the public sphere. Referrals are also one way to connect with lawyers. However, there are certain things to consider before employing the services of lawyers.
Competence: Until a lawyer has worked for you, it may be difficult to ascertain their competence. Former and current clients of the lawyer may be able to give you their impressions of the competence of a lawyer that you are interested in employing. Another way to determine the competence of a lawyer is to pay a visit to the courthouse and observe the lawyer at work. Be aware, though, that the most loquacious lawyer in the courtroom is not necessarily the best lawyer there. But trust me, if a lawyer is travelling on a journey outside the map of known legal practice, you will know. The reactions of the other lawyers and the judge will be an indication.
Confidence: You must feel a certain level of confidence in a lawyer’s ability to handle your matters. Is he knowledgeable in the sector in which you operate? If not, is he asking questions and not making assumptions about what the issues are? Do you feel like there is a meeting of the minds between you and the lawyer, in terms of his understanding of your needs, goals and desires? These are questions that should be addressed when meeting a lawyer to consider him for employment. You may be interested in a particular lawyer but get turned off after the first meeting. Like every other human relationship, you just may not be ‘feeling their vibe.’ If something feels off, turn it off and move on. While you want to feel confident in the ability of your lawyer, beware of one that tries to give you bold assurances. You may have a good chance or a fair chance of success in a matter, but no lawyer can tell you exactly what the outcome in a matter will be. They may hazard a guess, but there are factors beyond their control that determine the outcome – the judge is one of them. Also, when dealing with other institutions, it is difficult to say exactly how long a process will take. Your lawyer should be honest with you.
Confidentiality: Communications between you and your lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal advice are confidential. Information from those communications must not be revealed to third parties without the consent of the client (you). There is no exact way to tell if your lawyer is a blabbermouth, however, if he feels comfortable enough to share information about his other clients with you, then beware. The information he shares may sound like sweet gist to your ears, but tomorrow, it might be your gist tickling the ears of another person.
Appearance: I am not sure whether this should be in this write-up or in a write-up targeted at lawyers, but a lawyer’s appearance is very important. Lawyers are known to be sharp dressers. However, these days some of them are a disgrace to the profession. How do you hope to command fees in millions when you look like N10? My eyes have seen many atrocities in the courtroom. The culprits are mostly the male lawyers. I have seen male lawyers turn up in court with tattered, moth eaten, court waistcoats. I have seen male lawyers turn up in formerly white shirts, turned brown. Then there are those whose gowns are holding on by a thread. What about the ones whose wigs are so tattered that they look like a bird’s nest landed on their head? Please do not be deceived by the old story that the older and more tattered the wig, the more years of experience of the lawyer. That may be true on the one hand, but on the other hand, it tells a more negative story of the wearer. It says that you are a careless person who cannot take care of the details in their life. You’ll know the quality of a lawyer when he opens his mouth to speak. There is nothing noble about that.
If your lawyer looks unkempt, think twice. I once was in court when a man with over 40 years’ experience at the Bar walked in. There was a shine to his wig, his gown was pressed, his shirt white, starched and ironed, and then when he opened his mouth to speak, I was lost in lawyer heaven. This is what lawyering is all about. It is the entire package. It does not take too much to turn out looking neat and respectable. You don’t have to buy the designers to look sharp.
Cost: There is not much to say about this. You may not be able to afford the services of a top-rated lawyer/law firm. However, you may identify a young, sharp lawyer whose fees will not empty your wallet. Do not forget that your liberty and livelihood may rest in this person one day. Choose wisely.
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