Some lawyers stretch the truth with clients and prospective clients. If your lawyer or a lawyer you’re considering hiring tells you any of the following, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he/she is being totally honest and whether you should recheck his background or even go elsewhere…

  • “This case is a winner. I guarantee it.” An experienced lawyer might be able to tell you that you have a strong case, but an attorney who guarantees a win is being dishonest. The human element of our legal system makes it impossible to guarantee results…juries and judges sometimes produce unexpected outcomes…and crucial witnesses sometimes fail to show up in court or say what’s expected.
  • “This is my specialty.” Many lawyers do have specialties, but sometimes a lawyer in need of clients will claim to specialize in the legal services that you need even if he/she doesn’t.

What to do: Before you hire an attorney, look him up on the Martindale-Hubble Web site (www.Martindale.com) or the state bar association’s site. These should list his actual areas of practice, background and training.

  • “You can call me anytime.” You can call, but he often won’t pick up. A busy attorney doesn’t answer the phone every time a client calls and may not even get back to you within a day. And you need to be careful not to call or even e-mail too much. The time it takes for an attorney to respond—even if it’s by e-mail—may run up your bill.

What to do: Get the attorney’s direct e-mail address, but don’t contact him unnecessarily. While attorneys are notoriously bad at taking clients’ calls, most do respond fairly promptly to e-mails. Communicating with your attorney via e-mail also creates a virtual paper trail, which could come in handy if the attorney botches your case and you pursue a malpractice suit against him.

  • “I already filed the papers.” Although many lawyers file important paperwork promptly, some will say that they have even when they haven’t because they are disorganized or put a low priority on your case. The attorney’s foot dragging could delay the proceedings or, worse, lead to missed deadlines that result in the forfeiture of your case.

What to do: If your attorney has moved slowly throughout your case, ask him to e-mail you a copy of the documents that he says he has filed. If he hesitates, it could mean that he hasn’t really completed the paperwork yet. Contact the court clerk’s office to confirm that the documents are on the docket sheet. Some state and county courts now make it possible to check docket sheets online.

  • “Don’t worry about the estate. I’ll take care of everything.” Probate attorneys often say comforting things such as this to grieving relatives. But some of them are just trying to build trust so that no one bothers to ask how much they intend to charge.

What to do: The executor of the estate should ask an attorney how much he charges for probate services and try to negotiate before hiring him.