I was in a trucking accident some time ago and was badly hurt. I went to see a lawyer based on the recommendation of a friend at church. I don’t mean to be rude but the lawyer’s office was a disaster. The carpet was nasty, the place smelled like cigarettes, there were papers and books everywhere, and there was dust everywhere. The lawyer was eager to represent me and said he would work on a contingent fee, but said I would have to pay the fee to file the case in court. Is that normal? Should I be concerned at the look of the office?
First, it is not normal for a personal injury lawyer to ask the client to pay court costs or any of the other costs of litigation. Most lawyers in this type of case advance those costs, especially for people of low or moderate incomes, and you are appropriately wary of a lawyer who asks you to advance those costs.
That request, and the condition of the office, may indicate that the lawyer is having some financial issues. (Of course, it may just mean he is a cheap slob.) The financial condition of the lawyer you hire is important, because the lawyer must have adequate resources to finance your case and work without pay while the case is pending. A lawyer who cannot afford to finance the case may hire poor quality experts or not do things necessary to put your case forward in the best way, all of which can hurt your ability to recover the true value of your case. Likewise, a lawyer who is short on capital may recommend that you settle your case for a lesser amount than its true value to ensure that he gets paid for the work he has done.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that a lawyer who drives a $100,000 Mercedes and has a fancy office in a big office building in a major city is the best choice for a lawyer. Lawyers are just like everyone else, and lawyers who surround themselves with expensive things may well be purchasing or leasing things that they can’t afford. A $1200 suit may be owned by a man who can afford it, or it can be worn by a man who is trying to make you think he can.
So what do you do? Hire a lawyer based on his or her reputation in the legal community and not just the recommendation of a friend. The reputation of a lawyer in the legal community will not be largely influenced by how they look or what their office looks like but instead will be based on how the legal community believes that lawyer serves clients. How do you determine the lawyer’s reputation? Review our Legal Guide to Understanding How to Hire a Lawyer in a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case for the answer to that question and a list of the other factors you should consider.