AVOIDING ROOKIES AND BAIT & SWITCH FIRMS
HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DOES THAT ATTORNEY REALLY HAVE?
When you choose a lawyer to help you, you are making a very important decision. You will be relying on your lawyer’s advice and working closely with him on your legal matter. There must be an element of trust. However, trust is earned over time. Clients that come from referrals have a higher immediate level of trust with their lawyer but not every client is able to get a referral from a trusted source. Some find a lawyer by looking online at a lawyer’s website. Many of the lawyer sites online belong to recent graduates fresh out of law school. There are clues carefully hidden in these sites that will tell a potential client whether the attorney is really experienced or a beginner. One red flag is that the lawyer has not listed the number of years of experience he has or when he was admitted to the State Bar. If a lawyer does not disclose the amount of he experience he has, there is a reason. Another red flag is the photo. If a lawyer does not want you to know what he looks like, it may be that the lawyer is very young and does not look old enough to shave. Another example of a red flag is the rookie lawyer who claims his firm has 24 years of experience, a misleading figure that may be reached by adding together the cumulative experience of four separate rookies who have each worked as lawyers for six years. If you experience this type of deception from a website, before you even meet the lawyer, will you be able to trust this lawyer to help you?
As a client, you need to ask yourself whether you really want to entrust your legal issue to a rookie. There are many synonyms for the term “rookie” including apprentice, novice, amateur, beginner, flunky, greenhorn, neophyte, new kid on the block, newcomer, pupil and student. None of these words will make you very comfortable. Do you really want your lawyer learning how become a lawyer while representing you?
Some firms try to avoid this by having an experienced lawyer talk to new clients. These firms engage in a bait and switch scheme where the senior partner will meet with you and try to entice you to hire his firm without telling you that your case will be assigned to a rookie that you have not met. This practice is unfair to the client and is in some cases fraudulent but it happens frequently. Some lawyers send their new associate who just passed the bar exam to cover court or even meet a client in court for the first time. If you suspect that a lawyer is a rookie or that a firm will play these type of games, you should ask yourself whether this is the right lawyer or law firm for you. Experience matters. If you choose to work with a young attorney, it should be an informed decision, not a surprise.
Do you see firms advertising below market flat fees to handle litigation like foreclosure actions in the Supreme Court? Do they promise that they will never drop their client in the middle of the case and will do all of the work for a flat fee no matter how much work is needed? That one is a big warning sign that should raise questions to any potential client. If a foreclosure defense firm takes on a new case knowing that the firm won’t really be compensated for all of the time and resources the firm will need to commit, what do you expect to happen? Yes – the bait and switch. They will assign the new inexperienced attorney to your case and then pressure that attorney to devote as little time as possible to your file so that the firm does not lose money. The firm has to pay the associate’s salary, the office rent, insurance, phone company etc. That kind of firm has little incentive to be client-oriented on flat fee litigation. Oh and that promise about not dropping your case in the middle no matter how much work is needed? It is meaningless and worthless. You have just been promised ice in winter. Every attorney knows that the ethical rules governing cases in court do not permit an attorney to just drop a client. Withdrawal from a case requires the client’s consent or a court order. So these firms are just promising what they are already required to do by law. It’s a dishonest marketing tactic. Why place your trust in someone with deceptive marketing right on their website?