Five ways to avoid scummy lawyers

Five ways to avoid scummy lawyers

Other than politicians (seriously, who in their right mind would run for public office), very few professions get dragged through the mud like lawyers do.

Almost every lawyer I’ve come across is a normal, nice person who handles their case work honestly and professionally.  I’ve also known lawyers that own strip clubs and act like what you’d think a strip club owner would act like, lawyers that give away TV’s and trips to union officials in order to get them to send work to them and one attorney who was caught fondling himself at a pool in front of a bunch of teens.  So not every attorney is perfect just like in any other profession.  But here are five tips that will hopefully help you avoid hiring a scummy attorney.

  1. Trust your instincts: If you meet an attorney and they are just too slick or smell or they are messy, etc., your instincts will probably tell you that this isn’t the lawyer for you.  I know many attorneys that are always unprepared and have food stains on their shirts.  I always wonder what person in their right mind would hire someone like that, but it happens.  The photo in this post is a joke, but there are some attorneys like that.  Those ads actually work.  For most cases there are plenty of lawyers out there that would do a good job for you.  Don’t hire the first one you meet if your instincts tell you not to.  You are the client.  Don’t be afraid to keep looking.
  2. Practice age discrimination:  There are a bunch of good attorneys in their 70’s and 80’s still practicing law.  Some of them just love it.  Others would be bored if they didn’t go to work and certainly don’t want to hang out with their wife all day.  Others have nothing else in their life.  But the great majority of attorneys that are practicing when most of their law school classmates are dead or living in a warm climate do so because they need the money.  This is a sign that they never carved out a successful career.  Others do it part time and don’t give the cases the attention and passion they deserve.  This is of course a stereotype, but stereotypes are often true.  Your best chance of a good case result in my opinion is not hiring someone that is really old.  You are way better served by someone in their 30’s to 50’s who is experienced, but also passionate about their work and really active in their practice.  If I’m going to court, I want that type of attorney in my corner.
  3. Avoid ambulance chasers: Did you know it’s perfectly legal for a lawyer in Illinois to send you a letter saying that they want to represent you.  It’s legal, but it’s scummy.  If you hire one of these attorneys you are picking an ambulance chaser in my opinion.  It’s not as bad as the lawyer that shows up at the hospital (yes this happens) or at your door (that too), but it’s still bad.  Don’t ever hire an attorney that seeks you out.  They might be great, but if they contact you first, it’s not because they are worried about you.  They are worried about them.
  4. Check them out: A simple Google search is definitely a good idea before you hire a lawyer, but even better is to go to and look up the attorney’s name to see if they have any ethical violations in their background.  The ARDC is the organization that licenses and disciplines attorneys in Illinois.  If they aren’t dinged there it doesn’t mean that they are ethical, but before you hand over a few thousand to an attorney to take on your case, wouldn’t you want to know that they have a history of stealing money from clients?  That website is where you find that stuff out.  You can also learn if they have malpractice insurance.  To me, if they don’t it is a bad sign.
  5. Get it in writing:  I’m stunned at how many attorneys have cases with clients where they never enter in to a formal written agreement with them.  It’s bad for them and bad for the client.  If you hire a personal injury lawyer and they tell you verbally that they won’t ask you to reimburse expenses if they lose, get it in writing.  If your criminal attorney says the case will be handled on a flat fee, get it in writing.  If a divorce lawyer says their hourly rate is $250 and you’ll get an itemized bill every month.  Get it in writing.  This is all a part of demanding customer service such as returned phone calls and being treated with respect.  If you don’t demand good service, you should blame yourself.  It all starts with getting everything written down.

Nothing can guarantee that you won’t hire a bad attorney.  But hopefully these tips will help you avoid the scummiest of the bunch.

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  • Wow, Michael Helfand, an attorney of all people, is telling people to practice discrimination because he can find some rational basis to back up the "stereotype." Why stop there, Michael? Why not say "Charles Murray in The Bell Curve backed up some "stereotypes" about races and intelligence with statistical evidence - I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions but why not play the odds in your favor and be sure to go after the right races in your attorney!" Or "well, there are lots of women who are both attorneys and mothers, but you know how strong that mothering instinct is - chances are if she's still practicing she must be desperate for the money like those old folks." Pathetic.

  • #2 does seem a bit of a gratuitous stretch. Why even include such an offensive suggestion? The other 4 points would screen out the scummy lawyers just fine.

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