You didn’t see it coming and it knocked the wind out of you.
You were furloughed.
You were fired.
Your employee sued.
You did exceptional work and your client refuses to pay.
Someone took advantage of your kindness, your flexibility, your willingness to help.
You were sexually harassed.
You were fired.
You were treated poorly, taken advantage of, and it shook you to the core. Your emotions cycle between confusion, hurt, and anger. You may even feel shameful and embarrassed that you found yourself in this situation. At some point you wonder if it’s your fault and how could you have kept this from happening? But then you realize it’s not your fault and that you should do something; you need to do something.
But you don’t know what to do.
Someone you trust, perhaps your father, your spouse, sibling, or a friend, said you should talk to a lawyer. But you’ve never hired a lawyer before and you don’t see yourself as the type of person who hires a lawyer. It feels so aggressive and just the thought of talking to a lawyer makes your heart beat faster and your palms sweat. You’ve heard the jokes that lawyers are blood-suckers, selfish, heartless people who are just out to get your money.
Someone told me that people gravitate towards lawyers who are like them. If you’re not a blood-sucker, selfish, heartless person, you wouldn’t hire that kind of lawyer anyway. You will find a lawyer who is the right fit for you. Don’t let the negative perceptions keep you from talking to someone who could help you get from here to a resolution and a place where you have peace of mind and are stronger than when you picked up the phone.
What does a lawyer do anyway?
- A lawyer is a problem-solver.
At the very heart of it, lawyers are problem-solvers. Many really cautious, careful, and risk averse people hire lawyers to look for the problems they can’t see — before they happen. Hiring a lawyer to prevent problems in the first place, is generally the most cost-effective way to use a lawyer. But more often than not, someone hires a lawyer because they are stuck and have a problem they can’t solve.
Unfortunately, you have a problem you can’t solve.
A lawyer who has experience in or specializes in solving the type of problem you have can: 1. Let you know if it’s even worth pushing, sometimes, you just have to let it go; 2. If it’s worth pushing, give you a sense of how things could play out; 3. Recommend the best path forward to solve your problem; and 4. Do it for you (with your cooperation of course).
A problem that happens at work or is related to your employment relationship requires an employment lawyer. Civil litigation attorneys deal with disagreements over the breaking of a promise (contract). If you’re starting a business or need a partnership agreement, look for a corporate or transactional lawyer.
- Your lawyer is YOUR advocate.
Almost always, your lawyer is the only other person in the room (more proverbial than literal room these days) who is on your side. This is true especially if you are someone who does not feel that they have the strength, the power, or the confidence to stand up, speak up, or fight for yourself. Just taking the step to hire a lawyer is an act of standing up for yourself.
I wish I had a lawyer to advocate for me when my 13-year-old self signed a contract with a record label in Thailand. My parents were supportive but not entirely business-savvy and it never occurred to them to hire a lawyer. For me, just being offered a deal with a top record label was a dream come true and I didn’t care what the pieces of paper said. All I knew was that I would get to sing, have music videos, and perform in front of thousands of people. I would have done it for free. Yes, all those things came true, but it was also a lot of work. I was very successful and made the record label a lot of money. But looking back, if I had a lawyer, s/he would have asked the right questions, would have protected my interests, and would have negotiated a better deal. Even a slightly better deal would have made a big difference for my mother who by then, was a widow raising two kids.
Don’t let misperceptions hold you back from having someone stand up for you.
What are the top 3 things I should look for in a lawyer?
- Someone who solves your particular problem. These days, the practice of law has become increasingly specialized, so look for the type of lawyer who solves your particular type of problem. If you have a plumbing issue you’d call a plumber, not a roofer. Same thing with lawyers, if you have an employment problem, you’d call an employment lawyer, not a bankruptcy lawyer.
- Someone who asks you questions and listens. The only way an attorney can learn about you, the problem you are trying to solve, and what your ideal outcome looks like is to ask you questions, listen, and ask follow-up questions. You will not be satisfied even if you hired the most decorated and successful lawyer if that person does not take the time to identify, understand, or care about your problem and what you want. Even if a lawyer can’t get you what you want, if they at least ask about it, they can tell you what is possible, likely, or unlikely given the law and your particular circumstances. That will save you a lot of frustration with the process, but navigating a legal dispute is indeed a process.
- Someone you trust. I always say that hiring a lawyer is like entering into a marriage. In fact, you must trust your lawyer enough to tell them things you may not even tell your spouse. In order to have the most satisfying relationship with your lawyer, one where the lawyer can do the best job for you, you must trust this person enough to tell them the good, the bad, the dirty, and the ugly. Without trust, the relationship will not work.
Lastly, if you don’t connect with the first person you speak with, talk to a couple of other people. Like my friend says, people tend to hire lawyers who are like them. You will find someone who is a good fit for you.
If you have questions, you may schedule a call with me, and I’d be happy to chat.