Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Power of a Good Lawyer (And how to find one)

This post is prompted by an article that advises when you need a lawyer:
 you shouldn't be calling a lawyer because you found him in the Yellow Pages, or because her web site was on the first page of Google results, or because the firm has a bitchin' Twitter feed.
If you need a lawyer, you should be calling one based on the recommendation of someone you trust.
You should be asking friends, and relatives, and co-workers, and your doctor, and your accountant, and your pastor, and your neighbor who is a lawyer, if they can recommend a lawyer with the specialty you need.
I don't believe this is entirely true. Most people wouldn't know a good lawyer from a bad lawyer, under any circumstances, recommendations could be way off. Someone who is a competent attorney might know someone that is competent attorney in a different specialty but that is about it. The best thing to do is call and call attorneys until you find one that has the immediate answers to your case at his fingertips. Even if it is calling from the yellow pages. Just make lots of calls.

Here is a situation that explains this concept clearly.

Back in the 1980s, I had a friend who was subletting an apartment in NYC. He went to Marbella, Spain for a week, fell in love with the place and ended up staying 8 weeks. On his return to NYC, not surprisingly from my perspective, he found an eviction notice and a demand to payback rent. He was outraged (This is how Wall Street traders think, he was a trader.) He claimed he had told his landlady that he would be gone for the eight weeks (doubtful), but he wanted his place back and he didn't want to have to pay back rent (Again total trader thinking). He had talked to a couple of lawyers and they pretty much all said that they could get the money demands dropped and he would have to find another place to live or they could work it out so that he could keep the sublet but he would have to pay the back rent. It sounded reasonable to me, but John, that's his name, wanted both. He wanted to stay in the place and not have to pay the back rent.

Every time I tried to call John to do a trade, he would be on the phone whining about this "crisis." I wanted to do trades with him, not listen to this whining. Finally, I said to him one day, "John, I believe that with lawyers just like with any other profession there is a bell curve of competence, some are totally incompetent, most are average and a very few are super sharp. You have to make the calls until you find a super sharp one."

I then took out the very big and fat Manhattan yellow pages (This was pre-internet), looked up lawyers, hit the conference call button and told John that we were now going to call lawyers. After about 10 of these calls, it got pretty ridiculous, even to John, trying to explain why he wanted to stay in the apartment and still not pay the back rent. One or two of the lawyers seemed pretty competent, John wanted to stop but I wasn't happy. I coaxed John into one more call. John told his story the eleventh time, the lawyer asked a few questions and said, "Your landlady owes you $45,200." John replied, "No, no, you don't understand. I didn't pay the back rent." The lawyer replied, "I understand but she broke X law, Y law and Z law and she will have to pay you treble damages." It sure sounded like John had his lawyer. He called the landlady and said "Look, I don't want to cause you any major trouble, I just want to continue to sublet the apartment and not pay the back rent for the two months I didn't live there, but I have a lawyer who says that if you take me to court, you are going to end up owing me treble damages." Her lawyer told her that was absurd. It went to court, John won.

Here's the lawyer.  I just looked up his name on the internet. He is still in practice, this guy knows his landlord-tenant law: Alan Goldberg.


  1. I've had three different attorney's for various things over the last 8 years.(and a couple of attorney friends) Two were in adversarial situations, all were "business related" situations.

    My perception as a businessman is this:

    1. Most attorney's don't want to go to court, on both "sides" of any dispute.

    2. They always talk about their clients "out of school" to each other. This may or may not be helpful depending on whether your attorney likes you or not. But, if you understand this-it should color your interactions with your attorney.(and I don't mean you should ever lie to your attorney) I know for a fact that my attorney found me likeable and that opposing counsel came to dislike my former business associate(his client)...that was VERY helpful to me.

    I actually paid a third attorney to run interference in the above dispute(so actually, I've had 4 attorney's in the last 8 years...this one just didn't work directly for me) by representing an interested third party with some tertiary legal claims who I had already settled with to hammer on opposing counsel without the knowledge of my own attorney.(who was already in settlement mode, but I was unhappy with the numbers being tossed around)

    In essence, I threw a giant monkey wrench into their "settlement party" by doing this and stopping the bleeding and got a EXTREMELY favorable settlement arrangement(50% more favorable to me that initially discussed) via one simple letter from the "third party" attorney which was gumming up the whole works.(they were using discovery to run up their fees and figure out the 'proper' settlement amount for the case and for their ongoing fees)

    Do I think most people would be able to do this? No.(I was lucky) But I guess I'm stating the above so everyone knows the real deal.

    The "justice" system is pretty much broken, there's a reason attorney's all want to settle most of the time. My arbitration agreement in the disputed contract was worthless as all the attorney's pretended it didn't exist(I wanted the arbitration clause enacted). I asked one of my attorney friends why I couldn't even get arbitration enforced. Here was his answer:

    "Attorney's don't like arbitration because it's like kissing your sister. Plus it's always predictable, they split the baby." Of course, the great unsaid is far less legal fees too. (IMO)

    I lucked out when I saw how it was going down and found a way shut it down...but maybe someone reading this will gain a little better understand of how screwed up the entire system is. Better to avoid it entirely if at all possible. Most of the time the only winners are the attorney's on both sides.

  2. "It went to court, John won."
    No he did not.
    Even if John is a sociopath and has no conscience , he will still have to pay extra to live in an
    extremely litigious society.
    One should avoid litigation and lawyers to the utmost of his or her ability.
    If forced to defend yourself, don't expect any justice and/or common sense in a broken corrupt justice system.
    The odds of winning are the same as a Crap shoot with loaded dice.