Back in the days before attorney advertising ruined the legal profession, white-guys in their forties from designer law schools dominated the practice. Sought after and deferred to, the mere whisper of their waspish names carried clout. If one of these notorious attorneys agreed take your case, you accepted whatever terms he laid down. Pedigree mattered.
Those were golden times. Tort reform had not been born; attorneys were scarce; and legal practice offered prestige, security and the good life. What’s not to like about that?
The problem began slowly, with the admission of women and minorities to law schools in record numbers. The problem grew as the public learned of lawyer abuses, including sexual favors in lieu of fees, shoddy representation and outright theft of client funds. The problem exploded with attorney advertising. Suddenly, potential clients could compare fees, results and personalities. Suddenly, the public could make an informed decision and choose their favorite candidate. Suddenly, the spoiled and haughty had to learn to compete with new, less favorable rules.
Old Dogs in New Terrain
To their credit, many of the spoiled and haughty caught on and moved on. Some, though, are still holding out, decades after the first of several waves of change to hit the legal industry. Some are such die hards that they will never give up the golden days, despite their lack of effectiveness for their clients. Like Nadia Comaneci, who finally grew too fat for the balance beam, these lawyers just keep at it. They’re has-beens.
Has-Been Attorneys can be difficult to spot at first. Here are their most telling characteristics:
- How They Act. If they’re older than 75, they act spoiled and haughty. If they’re younger than 35, they act spoiled and haughty, as well as entitled, usually because their fathers are spoiled and haughty veterans of the golden times. To test if your potential attorney is spoiled and haughty in your first meeting, simply set a can of soda directly on his desk or conference table. If the attorney starts to sweat, refuses to look at the soda can, or cuts the meeting short, he’s one to avoid. If the attorney puts a coaster underneath the soda can and continues listening, he may just be a keeper.
- How Much They Talk. If they do all the talking, they are likely spoiled and haughty. It’s your case, your life and your money, and you should be given the floor. If they even once use words like “in rem,” or “legatee,” or “hereinasmuch,” trouble will soon come your way.
- Can They Take a Joke? If they have to steal every punch line, they are spoiled and haughty, no question. If they tell stories with long set-ups and cornball punch lines that don’t quite make sense, they will annoy everyone within hearing distance, including your judge and your jury. If, God forbid, they tell the same story more than twice, know that you are hearing a script.
- Does Everyone Have to Come to Them? Is their mere presence a production? For example, does every single meeting have to happen in their office, on their schedule? Does someone actually drive them about in their own car? Do they ask you for a ride to court or back to their office? The spoiled and haughty like to be driven about.
- How Long Ago Is Their Signature Case? The spoiled and haughty usually have a signature case that defines them for all eternity. Be sure to find out when this case occurred. Long distance runners have an informal rule that their accomplishments can only be advertised for two years. So, having run a marathon in your teens cannot be bragged about in your forties—you are not still a marathoner, you were a marathoner. Unless you have run another marathon in the immediate past, you are a has-been marathoner. So too with attorneys.
- Are They Name–Droppers? Glad-Handers? Do they lapse into French or reference people like Sarte or the Bronte sisters? If they don’t have Netflix or an Apple device, or if they wear wing-tips to a picnic, they are hopeless.
That Tricky Matter of Attorney Age
Not all old attorneys are has-beens, but the risk increases exponentially with every year they work past 75. Not all attorneys who are descendants of the spoiled and haughty are entitled brats, but the odds are stacked that they are. Young attorneys are not has-beens, but some are never-shoulds, a topic for another post. Women attorneys can be has-beens, but they generally are not, especially if they are mothers.
It is common sense that you want an attorney who knows the law, can get along with people if he needs to, and fits within the bell-shaped curve of current American culture. Fortunately, you now have more information available about potential attorneys than ever so you have many, many choices. Unfortunately, you also have many, many types to avoid and has-been attorneys are plentiful and difficult to detect until it’s too late.
If you hear your attorney lamenting too much about Vietnam, you may have a history buff, or you may be headed for trouble. Let the buyer beware.