Lawyers’ 8 Commandments

It may not be the “Perfect 10,” but these are some standards a lawyer should live by.

1. Thou shalt not speak in absolutes. There are no absolutes in law.

“Is this legal?”

“It depends.”

2. Thou shalt make no promises as to outcomes.

“Do I have a good case?”

“Maybe.”

3. Thou shalt do as the client says, even if you disagree. Make it clear that you disagree, but do it anyway.

“This is not necessary to get what you want, it will complicate things, cost you money, and probably won’t work, but if you insist, I will do it.”

4. Thou shalt listen to and believe the client, but make sure their story checks out.

Self-explanatory. It’s not fair and nearly everyone doesn’t realize it, but there are two sides to every story, and we tend to filter out (even without realizing it sometimes) some information not favorable to our perspective. Clients don’t always know what is relevant, but details could make all the difference and you must check them out.

5. Thou shalt make every attempt to explain the law to the client, even though he or she can never understand it fully.

“You should not accept a Quit Claim Deed for this.”

“Why, what is a Quit Claim Deed?”

“A Quit-Claim Deed is a deed that transfers whatever interest the grantor has, but makes no guarantees as to whether or how much interest the grantor owns. Also, the grantor makes no promise to help you get the interest you think you are getting if someone comes along and wants to fight with you about a boundary or title issue. Those kinds of promises only come from a Warranty Deed. Someone can quit-claim you the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s not worth the paper its printed on.”

6. Thou shalt remember that what goes around comes around. You can dish it out, but be prepared to take it.

Not responding to phone calls, filing an aggressive motion, asking a certain question on direct: they have consequences.

7. Thou shalt put the clients’ interests always above and before your own.

Most people think that lawyers try to drag on cases to make more money. Don’t be that guy. The client wants something, that’s why he or she came to do. Try to do that thing, or, if it’s not possible, do the next best thing.

8. Thou shalt live in the land of “what ifs.” The client is not welcome in the land of “what ifs,” but you may introduce them to some of its main attractions to explain why something is necessary.

Most people can’t fill their heads with the dozens of standard hypos you learned in law school, not to mention the hundreds of unusual circumstances that you deal with all the time in your cases. The client doesn’t need to know that someone got sued for not disclosing that the house they were selling was haunted, unless they ask, “What’s with this clause in the purchase and sale agreement?” Then you can say, “Well that’s in case you forgot to tell them that the house was haunted, and they sue you for it.”

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