Background Experience Matters
A primary duty I have as an attorney is counseling clients or prospective clients about the best way to solve problems. Attorneys are called "counselors" at law due to the expectation they offer the best advice and counseling possible. Under ethics rules, attorneys are not limited to strictly legal advice, and sometimes the problem can be used without resorting to the courts. We are expected to offer counsel bearing on client problems which we believe appropriate to the issue. We are also expected to consider ways to keep costs down as we are determining solutions, particularly if we are aware that is an important consideration for clients. In addition to offering consideration for choosing the best "counselor" as your attorney, I will offer advice I give clients about ways to keep costs down.
What usually makes a good counselor for considerations beyond the law is having experiences and background outside the law. About a hundred years ago, most lawyers did not attend law school but "read" the law by working in an attorney office. The expectation throughout most of American history was that a lawyer would have a variety of experiences and learn his trade dealing with the everyday issues of the law from a seasoned mentor attorney. In the early to mid 20th century, law school education replaced this dynamic, and now most lawyers will go straight from college, to law school, to practicing law. This has brought changes to the experiences lawyers usually bring to their job as a counselor, and I believe made many lawyers less suited for offering the full range of advice of previous years.
In my own background, I have spent almost three decades dealing with leadership/management issues as an Army officer (about half of that time was active duty and around half reserve). That has given me unique perspectives, beyond what I learned in law school and 12 years practicing law, to offer advice (beyond the law) dealing with business, employment, and management decisions. Learning and doing well in law school, passing the bar exam on the first attempt, practicing for over a decade, and earning a top peer review rating (AV Preeminent) are achievements of which I am proud. However, the many years of experience outside the law is what has made the difference in being a solid "counselor" to my clients. I can sometimes determine another less expensive avenue to solve a problem and can offer advice on how to handle the problem within the legal system without paying a massive retainer. Importantly, having been a military commander, I have experienced the human dynamics of hiring/firing and leading organizations. This is something unique, and something clients should seek with their prospective attorney.
One piece of advice I have for those seeking a legal/court remedy but wanting to keep costs down: The attorney should be able to offer multiple options beyond the standard non-refundable retainer of multiple thousands of dollars. I offer many clients a "refundable" retainer, in which I refund anything not spent as a cost or fees. Additionally, in some cases, particularly those low dollar amount matters which normal attorney fees would make cost prohibitive (for example, a contract or property dispute only worth a couple of thousand dollars), I offer a way for the client to spend minimal legal fees and yet bring the matter to court. For example, I can draft up a summons and complaint for a nominal fee and put it in the client's signature to file "Pro Se" (without representation) in a Magistrate Court). If the other side does not settle satisfactorily, I can stand by for any additional help with the client bringing the suit. At some point and if necessary, the client can hire me to represent him in a trial. This method saves the client money while exercising the legal remedy. This is only one of many means of keeping costs down for the client with solid advice.
Of course, if money is not a significant consideration, retaining the attorney for the entire litigation is best. I am always prepared to handle that full litigation. Interestingly, I believe my experiences beyond attorney have helped me better connect with jurors. Jurors are regular people who don't have a law school/legal background. I understand this and try to find the way to advocate in ways that speak to their background and experiences. This is something clients should be considering when hiring any lawyer, but particularly one to see through a major life problem. Those lawyers who have spent time "outside the law" can offer something unique and helpful in reaching the absolute best plan of action to the solution.