Many lawyers, at some point in their lives, may be asked to judge the work of another lawyer who is handling a matter for family or friends. This usually happens because someone wants a second opinion, and they may feel that a friend who is a lawyer will give them an honest opinion of how well another lawyer is performing. Often, lawyers are harsh when judging other attorneys, either because they think that their family or friend deserves “white glove” treatment or because they do not practice in the relevant field. For a variety of reasons, lawyers should not hold other attorneys to unreasonable expectations and should limit the expectations of friends and family that seek advice.
I fully admit that, in the past, I have held lawyers to unreasonable expectations. Earlier in my career, a relative of mine needed a personal injury lawyer. Since this relative was elderly, and because I was an attorney myself, my relative asked that I coordinate with his attorney to ensure that my relative was getting the best legal representation possible. Throughout the course of the representation, I frequently called and emailed the attorney to ensure that he was on top of the work. I also judged the lawyer pretty harshly when he failed to respond to messages or failed to take certain advantages in the case.
In my own defense, I also did a fair amount of work on the case to alleviate my relative’s lawyer of some of the burdens associated with the handling of the matter. For instance, I answered some of the discovery requests, did some legal research, and helped draft some of the papers. This is different than in the many situations in which lawyers critique the conduct of attorneys for friends and relatives without handling some of the work themselves.
However, as I have progressed in my career, and opened a practice that handles a wide variety of matters, I realized that I may have been a little hard on my relative’s lawyer. Attorneys often have dozens or even hundreds of matters that they need to handle at any given time. Each of these matters requires varying levels of attention at any given time in a case, and it is balancing act for lawyers to manage all of the work. Attorneys often need to conduct triage to handle all of the emergent matters first before tending to matters that can wait.
However, when a relative has a legal matter that a lawyer is handling, it may seem as if that is one of the most important things in their life at that time. When relatives or friends who are attorneys look into matters, they may also see the legal matter as extremely critical and not consider the fact that a lawyer may have a lot of different tasks that they need to handle all at once. However, lawyers should be empathetic to attorneys who are handling matters for friends and family and not hold these attorneys to unreasonable expectations.
Sometimes, lawyers may recommend that their friend or relative take steps that could harm their case because they have unreasonable expectations for a lawyer who is handling a friend’s or relative’s matter. One time, I took a call from a prospective client who was a relative of someone with whom I used to work. The prospective client told me that he had spoken to his lawyer relative and the relative suggested that the prospective client seek new counsel. The prospective client’s current counsel did not return phone calls and emails too quickly and gave an adversary an extension of the time to answer on a matter, which upset the client.
However, when I looked at the docket of the case, and did a little digging, it seemed that the lawyer was doing a decent job on the case. It was perhaps true that the lawyer did not return phone calls or emails as quickly as the client would have liked, but this is an issue with numerous lawyers since attorneys have many matters to handle and may prioritize emergent cases. Moreover, it is common for lawyers to grant extensions to adversaries without consulting their clients, and such extensions can go a long way toward building rapport with the other side during a representation. Changing counsel is a serious consideration that can have profound consequences on a matter, and the factors likely did not warrant the client changing attorneys in this matter.
Of course, everyone wants the best for their friends and family members, and when lawyers are asked to review the work of another attorney, they may judge that lawyer’s performance harshly. However, lawyers should not hold other lawyers to unreasonable expectations out of fairness and because this can have a negative impact on a representation.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.
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