• In general, competition harms more than helps
  • A client and attorney must fully cooperate – never compete
  • The primary factor in any legal representation
  • What client and lawyer must agree to

Hiring a bad lawyer makes a client’s life pretty miserable. And lawyers don’t like handling difficult clients. The bottom 80% of lawyers have to take difficult clients because that 80% fights for the scraps left by the top 20%; too bad.

But clients are also subject to the Pareto principle: 20% of the clients are “good,” and 80% are “less than that.” The best clients deserve the best lawyer . . . correct? What happens if a good client gets a bad lawyer? That’s not good.

The client’s general well-being is a prime concern. Why should a client put up with a lawyer’s surly dismissive attitude? Why should a client put up with a lawyer who doesn’t return phone calls promptly? . . . or who gives unclear directives? (I haven’t used the word “incompetent” yet . . .) In all respects, a client’s life should be better with the lawyer than without him. Otherwise it’s the wrong lawyer. Yes? Why pay someone to make you miserable?

I win, you lose: wrong

Certainly your immigration case presents an adversarial situation: you have to convince the government to grant your benefit or relief. True. That’s stress enough. But your everyday interactions shouldn’t involve competition. Just about everything in American society is done competitively – I win, you lose. But the problem is,  you lose if I win. And if 2 people get volatile enough – like in a divorce – then both lose. That’s a pretty lousy way to live.

If only one person can win, then there’s scarcity. There’s only so much. It’s a pie divided into pieces; if I get one more piece than you, then I win. Too many of our relationships are predicated on this model. Most of the time it’s a bad idea. It doesn’t breed trust between people.

Who’s winning in your marriage? . . . or in your intimate relationship? Who’s winning between you and your children? If you go to church, who’s winning between you and your priest? All this sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? What about your lawyer, who’s winning between you and your lawyer? If you ever need to ask that question, then you’re not enjoying your interactions with your lawyer very much. Why? Because you don’t trust each other.

Not a competition

An attorney-client relationship isn’t a game for one or the other to win. Both should win. The attorney and the client both must have this goal. (And that doesn’t mean to win the court case- it’s assumed that attorney and client strive to win that.) I mean that that both attorney and client should win in their interaction with each other. This is called a win-win arrangement; having a win-win attitude toward each other.

Does a win-win approach guarantee that the client wins his case? No, nothing can guarantee that. Sometimes the facts prohibit it. But a win-win approach will always guarantee you have a better chance to win. With a win-win attitude, chances for success always increase.

Why? Because thinking win-win means the lawyer and the client trust each other. Most often that’s not the case. I’ve known of clients who didn’t like or trust their lawyers, but they kept them anyway. They felt a dependance on them – they might lose their case otherwise. Lawyers who allow this take advantage of clients, usually for money, often without realizing it. This type of lawyer-client situation is a competition: the lawyer keeps the client and the fees – he wins. The client is uncertain and frightened. The client’s trust concerns, fee concerns, and concerns about the representation all take second place. The client loses. Being in competition with your own lawyer is a terrible idea.

The most important factor

Trust makes everything easier for the client and the attorney. How do you determine if you can trust a lawyer you might potentially hire? You spend time with him (or her), look him in the eye, ask questions, and then listen to your heart. Does this situation feel right to you? You’ll know. (Women are usually better at judging this than men.) Rule of thumb: if everything else seems fine, but you still have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right, don’t hire the lawyer. It’s too important a decision. Keep looking.

This works both ways. Lawyers need things from clients too. When people ask me, “Can you take me on as your client?” If everything else seems okay to me, I may still have more to find out. I’ll always respond, “Yes. If you do everything I tell you.” What does that mean? For one thing, a client must always tell their lawyer the absolute and complete truth. Do you want to end up stranded in your home country with no way to get back here? It’s easy to do – just lie to your lawyer. And withholding facts is equivalent to lying.

A lawyer needs resources that only the client provides: legal fees, evidence or proofs, information, and cooperation. Another term for cooperation is consideration. A client that disappears for 6 months or more – without any contact – has abandoned their case. That’s a form of consideration. Why should I care about your case if you don’t?

Fees are necessary to pay for time, and thorough, careful legal work takes time. Evidence and information are necessary to provide the raw material for the case: the law interwoven with specific facts to achieve the result – approved petition or application, relief from removal, remand on appeal, or reprimand to the agency from the district court. Client cooperation – trust – looms just as necessary as fees or evidence. If I don’t have it, providing legal help is much harder.

Another fine solution

Should the client and attorney not agree, then agree to “no deal.” No deal can be a very good solution. Whether it’s because one person may not have complete trust in the other, or the client may not be able to pay the legal fees, or they each have different ideas about how to approach the case; or even if it’s just a simple personality conflict. If so, both can agree to “no deal.” The client find another lawyer.

The “no deal” option liberates both parties. They don’t have to try and manipulate, or coerce each other; all the pressure from game playing – competition – goes away. I never want to represent a client that isn’t fully happy with what I’m doing. I don’t want to “win” at their expense. If I know they’re not fully happy with the representation, I don’t take their case. And very often it isn’t a question of money. We either both “win” or there’s no deal.

Here’s some food for thought:

  1. What’s the worst possible reason a client could have for choosing a lawyer?
  2. How about the lawyer? What’s the worst possible reason for him to take a client?