What If Your Lawyer Falls Apart?

Sobel- Insult to Injury

(DGIwire) — Lawyers are people and people can have breakdowns. When we are deeply dependent upon a professional’s performance, and when that professional is our lawyer, the idea that the lawyer could have a breakdown is downright scary. But the truth is that lawyers do suffer breakdowns – and in much greater numbers than other professionals. Across the United States, lawyers are ranked top among professions for depression and, in 1996, lawyers took first place as the professionals most likely to commit suicide. Moreover, lawyers are twice as likely as the general population to be addicted to alcohol or other chemical substances.

When a person’s important legal matter (and what legal matter is unimportant?) is tied to someone who may be mentally unstable, bad things can happen. It’s not beyond the pale to imagine that your lawyer could fall apart, according to Janet Sobel, longtime attorney and author of Litigation – Insult to Injury, a book meant to make consumers smarter. “The statistics are both sad and grim,” says Sobel. “A large number of legal clients are being represented by lawyers suffering from depression, contemplating suicide, or outright addicted to drugs and alcohol.”

Sobel’s book, which can be found on her website, www.judgingthelaw.com, explains why picking a lawyer who is emotionally secure is a key first step to never getting the devastating news that your lawyer has come unstrung,” says Sobel. “But,” she notes, “there’s no sign on a lawyer’s office door that warns clients to beware.” Clients must carefully, intelligently, and wisely pick the right lawyer for their matter, and few clients, even sophisticated and highly educated ones, know how to do that.

According to Sobel, there are several protective steps the consumer can take when looking for a lawyer:

  1. Consumers must have at least a basic understanding of their legal rights and options before interviewing any lawyers who might represent them. This means the consumer needs to consult with one lawyer before starting to interview others. That first lawyer should not be “in the running” to take the case, which keeps the advice unfettered by conflict.
  2. When interviewing lawyers to handle their case, the consumer must ask questions probing each lawyer’s philosophy towards bringing the case to an early resolution, keeping the client informed, seeking the client’s input along the way, and controlling costs. No consumer should hire a lawyer who cannot fully explain how the case will proceed and what it will likely cost the client.
  3. No consumer should become a lawyer’s client without understanding the provisions of the fee agreement that is requested to be signed. Sobel’s book has an entire chapter explaining the meaning of the typical terms found in attorney-client fee agreements, an analysis itself worth about two hours in legal advice.
  4. Search for a counselor-at-law to consult with. Counselors at law focus on giving the client basic legal advice, so an intelligent and informed set of decisions can be made before embarking on the very slippery slope of our civil legal system. Wisdom is power!

Even if a lawyer is stable and high functioning when hired, life is full of twists and turns that can upset any legal cart. Getting into a civil lawsuit is no simple matter. It can carry grave risks of harm that go beyond the case at hand. The best hope of emerging unscathed comes with a full and realistic awareness of what can occur once inside our legal system.

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