I get calls, I sometimes feel like the Shell Answer Man. I put myself out there, I invite people to contact me with their legal problems/issues/dilemmas. Maybe I'm the DWI answer man (don't sue me Shell), or the lawyer answer man, but either way I do answer questions.
For those not old enough to remember, the Shell answer man was a series of commercials and ads which began in the 1960's. The basic theme was that the Shell Oil Company would provide common sense "answers" on being safe, and saving money/energy via their Answer Man.
Their tag line was "Come to Shell for Answers." It resonated with me, and most likely millions of others (the ads ran for over 30 years). People like clear, unbiased, and helpful information.
THE MYTH OF LAWYER KNOWLEDGE
Many people believe that attorneys are taught in law school how to practice law. This is not entirely accurate. Attorneys are taught many things in law school. Unfortunately the large majority of them are more general than specific. If an attorney wants to be conversant and knowledgeable in an area of law then they must practice in that area regularly and often locally (geographically). This is more true in 2012 than it was in 1962. Things, especially legal things have become more complex and place specific.
Sometimes very bright lawyers make grave mistakes. Not giving a case or issue it's full weight, ie. your complete focus, attention, and time can be very costly to the client. I have seen attorneys sell clients short by either not spotting an issue (or a potential issue) or not taking something serious (or serious enough).
THE MYTH OF THE LAWYER DEAL
People think they are getting a deal when getting legal advice from a lawyer friend, relative, or at a discounted rate. Sometimes the advice "may" be spot on. I use the word "may" because if it is NOT that may be a fatal error. Fatal in the loss of a license, or being subject to punishments and consequences that are far reaching. The friends and family plan may be great for cell phones but do you really expect great legal counsel from these people? My rule is I am not a doctor or lawyer to my friends and family. It is unfair to them, and I never win by taking on an amateur role (you are not being a professional in this capacity).
THE MYTH OF UNDOING
Many people believe after they have got the deal (and followed bad advice or no advice) they can then fix the error by bringing in another lawyer. Once the bell is rung can you un ring the bell? NO. Once you make a bad legal mistake or a judgment call can you go backwards and undo it? Typically NO again. How hard is it to fix anything after it has been done wrong the first time?
OMISSION IS A GRAVE SIN
What you or your attorney fail to do can hurt you far worse in many instances than the crime you allegedly committed. This is the most common criminal defense lawyer problem I see day to day. Not being proactive can and will hurt you. This is also true in most other legal areas. Not giving enough time to review a contract, or not discussing it's terms/conditions, or signing and filing out insurance forms without review by a "interested" attorney can be dangerous to you long term case.
HOW INTERESTED IS YOUR LAWYER?
Interested attorneys are invested in you and your problems. When I get paid (for a criminal/DWI case) or am going to get paid based upon a result (in a personal injury case) I AM INVESTED & INTERESTED. I am being paid to care, to give a shit. There I said it. How can I care about something fully I do not have a link/connection to? Yes Virginia, Money is important in a professional practice that has a finite amount of time. As a chiropractor I would allot specific times to discuss X-rays and my report of finding. There was specific times for examinations, for patient discussion, and for treatment. I did not try to practice by default, by ear so to speak. Not being focused and highly organized in any practice can lead to disastrous results. In the medical field, without focus and organized attention patients go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. See the following real life legal examples below.
Example 1: Indefinite Loss of a License
I got a call from a person that is on long term meds for a medical problem. She gets cited for some traffic violations involving a one car accident. Then a letter comes from the DMV. The letter alleges that they have been notified (by the police) that her meds/medical condition may have contributed to this event. The letter is brought to her attorney. It must be filled out by her doctor in regards to her medical condition and meds.
The doctor fills it out and it is sent back to the DMV. DMV then suspends her driver's license indefinitely.
What happened? In my mind lack of buffering. The attorney for this woman should have acted as the buffer between her and the government. He should have protected her. The letter should have been reviewed, it's ramifications discussed, and it's information filtered or at the very least looked over. Could the doctor have been called? Could the matter have been discussed? Could the letter been filled out by some other party/doctor/expert?
What now brown cow? You are screwed. Why? This matter was not taken seriously. I believe Free/discounted legal advice is the culprit. She got free/cheap legal advice, and at what COST?
You tell me what your future ability to drive a car in any state is WORTH? You tell me what you would pay to not lose your privilege to drive? This is not temporary either.
Example 2: Probation is worse than jail
I'm sitting in Court, and the lawyer next to me is telling his client that the judge is likely to place him on probation for three years from his first time DWI Drugs. Because his client never went for a drug/alcohol evaluation, and the lawyer (and his client) have nothing to present to the judge that day (it is sentencing), and had nothing to present to probation to persuade them otherwise. So again we have something vital to sentencing that has been passed over. Could the attorney have ensured and made clear to the client the importance of this evaluation? Could the attorney have spent the time and the effort to weigh out the pain of THREE YEARS of PROBATION? You want client motivation give them REASONS. THE BIG Why? Why must something be done is vitally (do I use vital too much?) important in getting them to do it. Vital comes from "Vita" like in the word vitamins, which means life or life giving.
Well don't get me started. If you think it would all be so simple to fix the above examples you are deluded.
This is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is much more damage and the injury that await someone traveling through the governmental systems of black/white justice willy nilly or with a lawyer guide that is either overwhelmed by handling too many cases at once or suffering from a case of undiagnosed and untreated ADD (my apologies to those so afflicted).
Law Offices of Lawrence Newman, D.C., ESQ.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
Doctor of Chiropractic
504 North Aurora Street
Ithaca, NY 14850