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Seven Things Not To Say To Your Employment Attorney

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You’ve been wrongfully fired from your job. You’ve gathered all the important information for your case and have started the process of contacting the top employment attorneys in your area. By now, you’ve probably gotten accustomed to the intake process and what to say. You wait to hear back from these law firms, only to be rejected, over and over again. You might be wondering, “what went wrong?”

For starters, there could be a number of reasons why employment attorneys are declining to take your case. Perhaps you don’t have as solid a claim as you thought you did, maybe you signed an arbitration agreement or maybe you didn’t provide enough pertinent information. However, what you might not realize is that it may have been something you said.

Employment lawyers who represent employees (i.e. regular people) undertake a lot of risk when pursuing wrongful termination claims, so first impressions are vital in their decision to take your case. While good cases are certainly appealing, your temperament and disposition as a potential new client matters a lot more than you might think.

To help with this, we’ve included the top seven (7) things employment attorneys hate to hear from potential new clients (and our suggestions of how to go about it differently).

#7 – “My Case Is Worth A LOT Of Money”

When employment lawyers hear this phrase, it’s a major red flag that you’ve looked at massive employment verdicts (which are extremely rare), have dollar signs in your eyes and believe your case should get the exact same result.

First, as mentioned, these massive seven and eight-figure verdicts are wonderful, but very rare, as they only occur when many factors come together in a “perfect storm” situation. That storm usually consists of: great facts, great legal liability, a great plaintiff (i.e. you), high damages, an excellent judge, an incredible jury and, above all, a defendant employer who is so delusional that they can’t see all of the above staring right at them . . . resulting in their refusal to offer anything close to a fair-value settlement and thus forcing a full-blown jury trial.

This is why over 90% of wrongful termination cases settle before trial, as your attorney has a moral and ethical obligation to advise you to settle if the defendant is presenting a fair offer (which is harder to obtain than you think). Thus, if you believe your case is worth millions and millions of dollars, you’re far more likely to be severely disappointed by the result, and your attorney will know that.

Thus, you need to do two things. First, do your homework up-front and retain a quality employment attorney with experience and results to back it up (preferably with fancy wrongful termination trial verdicts – not just settlements). Second, trust that your (quality) employment lawyer will obtain the best possible settlement for you based on the merits of your case. How do you find the best employment lawyer for your case? We’ve got an article on that too (coming soon).

#6 – “They’ll Settle To Avoid The Publicity”

Virtually every client who has made this statement has had their case turn into several years of protracted, nasty litigation. It’s literally the closest thing to a jinx in employment law.

We’ve found that many people base this belief on (unsubstantiated) office rumors of past lawsuits. Usually, this is either inaccurate or, more likely, your employer has never been sued by a competent employment attorney (i.e., one who won’t settle your case for pennies-on-the-dollar).

As we’ve written about before, for every one competent employment attorney, there’s probably two to three pretenders who will take any case that walks through the door and settle it for whatever they can get. $1,000? Sure. $20 Starbucks Gift card? Hell yeah where do I sign!?

For our purposes, employment attorneys don’t want their potential client to have a certain expectation before the process even begins. It’s best to keep an open mind about the course and outcome of your case, as there are many factors and moving parts that will influence its direction and lifespan and no two cases are alike. This fact is so important it bears repeating: no two cases are ever, ever alike, so don’t expect that. Plus, it’s not like your lawyer can threaten to take your case public in exchange for payment — that’s actually extortion and the State Bar doesn’t take too kindly to that.

#5 – “This Other Lawyer Told Me He Charges 30%, Whats Your Fee?”

Shopping around, huh? There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s what smart consumers do and I’ve never taken offense to it. Still, It’s a huge red flag when a potential client is already concerned with this up front, especially when it’s literally the first question they ask over the phone.

When you’re in the beginning intake stages with a potential lawyer, think of it like a first date. You don’t want to talk about finances right off the bat while you’re still getting to know each other. The lawyer is trying to piece together the main parts of your claim, so by asking them what their ‘rate’ is and/or if they can lower it, it makes it seem like you’re fishing for a discount and that you care more about profiting than about the merits of your case.

Importantly, you should never choose your employment attorney based on how much (or how little) they charge. Would you do the same for a heart surgeon? Yeah, exactly. You want the best person for the job and, yes, the best attorneys usually do charge a higher rate. As mentioned above in #7: do your homework up-front and retain a quality employment attorney with experience and, preferably, trial verdicts to back it up.

Still, you’ll get an opportunity to find out how much your lawyer charges when you sign a retainer agreement. The attorney should discuss their rate and support it with their level experience and proven results. Generally, the more experience and better results an attorney has, the higher their contingency as they will tend to settle cases at a higher amount.

#4 – “I Want To Speak With The Attorney, Not The Intake Clerk.”

One of the main turn-offs (and red flags) for an employment attorney is if you’re rude, condescending or demanding over the phone. Shockingly, this is more common than you’d think.

For starters, there’s a practical reason why the attorney doesn’t take your initial phone call. Lawyers we are constantly working on cases and are often out of the office attending depositions, mediations, court hearings, trials, etc. Thus, speaking to an intake clerk for an initial phone interview is standard practice and actually streamlines the entire process. Doctors are the same, rarely do you ever call a medical office and have your treating physician pick up the phone.

Putting that aside, there’s two main reasons why this is a red flag:

First, good employment attorneys carefully choose their cases, as they will likely spend significant amounts of time and money (sometimes years) until they hopefully get paid. It’s a huge investment risk as many things can go wrong, however, there’s nothing worse than having to drop everything for a high-maintenance client blowing up their inbox every other day for minor reasons.

Second, a huge (maybe even the most important) part of the valuation of your case is how you, the client, presents themselves as a likable person. I cannot stress how important that is and any good trial attorney will look at a case from that standpoint (i.e. not just how the case looks “on paper”). If the client is overly demanding, condescending and thinks the world must stop to cater to their needs, there’s a 100% chance that person will not come across as likable to a live jury. Even if you have the best, most un-losable case in the world, no jury will give you money if they don’t think you deserve it.

Thus, if you speak to an attorney’s legal staff like they’re a waste of time, don’t expect to hear good news from the attorney anytime soon.

#3 – “Tell Me How Much My Case Is Worth.”

Most employment lawyers won’t even entertain this question as there’s no way he or she can determine how much your case is worth from the initial (limited) amount of information.

If an attorney does give you an estimate, don’t be too surprised if it’s completely off. Your damages are calculated by dozens of factors which are unknown until an attorney takes a deep dive look into your case. Even then, there are dozens of other unknown and uncontrollable factors will have a huge impact on your case value, including:

  • where the case is venued,
  • who your judge is,
  • who the defendant is,
  • if there’s an insurance policy (and who the insurer is),
  • what evidence you can obtain in discovery,
  • how likely it is to go to trial,
  • what legal claims will survive to make it to trial,
  • what witnesses will testify favorably,
  • who will serve on your jury,
  • what evidence the judge will exclude or allow, etc.

Thus, there’s no possible way an attorney can accurately know the value of your case in the beginning and, even then, case values can swing dramatically depending on how the evidence shakes out. This is something your attorney should definitely tell you up-front.

#2 – “It’s Not About The Money” And/Or “I Want To Make Them Pay For What They Did To Me.”

Yeah, at the end of the day, it actually is about the money. The law dictates that the only remedy an employment lawyer can recover on your behalf is just that – money damages. Thus, if it’s not about money, then it’s probably about sweet, sweet vengeance, right? Unfortunately, that can get mighty dangerous if your attorney is trying to make a sound investment on your case, and some of us (myself included) have learned that the hard way.

It is essential that you be able to detach yourself from your case and trust that your lawyer has your best interest in mind. Ultimately, you’re limited by the facts of your case and the strength of your legal claims, regardless of how badly you’ve been damaged or how bad you want your past employer to pay for what they did to you.

#1 – “I’ve Done My Own Legal Research.”

The undisputed heavyweight champion of all red flags . . .

When you start quoting from legal articles or reference cases you’ve already researched before calling the lawyer, this is the #1 sign that you’ll be a (huge) problem client. Why? Becasue we know that, at the very least, you’ll have sky-high expectations that no lawyer, real or fictional, could possibly meet. This is why every single lawyer knows that this statement signals a high-speed collision course for absolute disaster.

Lawyers have gone through years of law school and should have extensive experience in their given field of practice. Thus, while most may appreciate their client’s concern and involvement, trying to back-seat-drive the case (as if you know the law better than your own attorney) won’t go over very well. You simply must trust that your lawyer is able to handle your case and knows what he or she is doing. Again, this is why it is very important to do your homework up-front and find the right attorney with credible experience.

Once you hire an employment lawyer, make sure to maintain a good working relationship since you’re essentially forming a business partnership together. They are representing you for free and investing their own time and money into your case because they believe in your case and in their ability to obtain a great result for the both of you. As “business partners,” your attorney has a vested interest in the outcome of your case and will always do everything possible to maximize the value.

This is why some of the best results for our previous cases came from clients who did not have any unrealistic expectations about their case, especially as it relates to the expected timeline, litigation strategy and settlement negotiations. Cooperation and mutual respect are key in having a good relationship with your employment attorney and ensuring your case gets the justice it deserves!

Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

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