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An Age-Old Problem: Look for and Avoid Bad Lawyers



I've spent over a decade researching and testing the expertise of lawyers across the world. Mainly in large corporate law firms. This has been part of my professional interest in understanding what makes some lawyers more expert than others.


With Peter Macmillan & Associates, I get a very different perspective. It's no longer purely an intellectual exercise, but rather a gritty and visceral sense of knowing when lawyers fail to deliver. Sometimes I see the other end of the spectrum and work with excellent lawyers. But today I discovered a firm that is renowned for being bad at what they do.


First, their expertise is middle to low level in their particular field of law. I say this not from a scientific perspective, but from watching them do their work with one of my clients. They are supposed to be experts in their field, yet even I can tell when they don't know what they're doing because, surprisingly, I have greater familiarity with the relevant legal issues simply by having shadowed so many lawyers in the past few months.


Second is their mindset, and how they defer to the other side's lawyers. Being overly aggressive and combative is not a reliable indicator of expertise. Equally, we can't assume that a more docile-appearing style is indicative of a lack of expertise.


However, the lawyers I'm writing about here have been obsequious towards the other side, and also kept telling me and my client how good the other side's lawyers apparently are. What kind of law firm thinks like that? Clearly it doesn't inspire confidence in the client. But more importantly, it reveals just how much this law firm is intimidated by their opposing counsel.


Third, I just read a draft letter that this law firm wants my client to approve. It is one of the worst letters I've seen written by any lawyers.


It's a letter intended to be read by the opposing side's lawyers. It's tentative and apologetic, where neither is justified. It also contains half a dozen spelling and grammatical errors (the letter itself is only 6 paragraphs long). If nothing else, this shows a lack of care and attentiveness, which by themselves are disqualifying factors in my book.


I could go on. But I just want to make this note as much to myself as to you.


It's one thing to measure a lawyer's expertise using cognitive science and testing techniques like verbal protocol analysis in a laboratory setting. It's quite another to see a lawyer's expertise made apparent through their lack of legal knowledge in their specialist field, the way that they negatively compare themselves to other lawyers, and the poor quality of the work they present to their own clients.


I suspect that most clients pick up on these things subconsciously. Given that so many things about the law are foreign to them, they may not really understand how bad their lawyers are.


This phenomena is something that has no doubt been around for millennia.


Consider this post an update and a reminder.

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