Perhaps encouraged from above – not to mention lawyer TV pitchers, a plethora of shows ostensibly about and glorifying the law and lawyers, and too many movies to count on shocking and sometimes true battles in theaters ratings – there are few arguments but that we are too litigious a society.
A measure often used to compare our own legal system is that of Japan. As fair or unfair as it may be to compare the legal landscape of the Land of the Rising Sun to that of Uncle Sam, the fact remains that in the United States there is approximately one lawyer for every 265 souls whereas ‘in Japan the ratio is closer to one to about 4,000. Yet we are not the most litigious country in the world; Germany holds this ancient distinction. We come in a slim fifth, after Germany, Sweden, Israel and Austria.
So what’s up?
While it’s hard to say precisely why Americans have their underwear in a contentious bunch (or this, being America, perhaps better said, a burr under our saddles) so much more than most of the rest of the world, it should also be noted, that the vast majority of American lawyers are not litigators.
In fact, it’s estimated that only five percent or less of all those millions of American lawyers know how to handle themselves in a courtroom. On average, of all attorneys in the United States, few spend more than a handful of days in a court career.
So what do most lawyers do?
Many, if not most, lawyers are “transactional” lawyers who spend their time drafting and reviewing contracts, preparing estate plans, advising corporations, leading boards of directors, and so on.
So the question, “Do you need a lawyer?” Everything depends.
A few more quick bits before bravely continuing.
Despite the angry times we live in, lawyers generally aren’t — and shouldn’t be — in the revenge business. Litigation is a tool for righting wrongs, not a tool for evening scores. And so the answer to the question of whether you need a lawyer to demand a pound of flesh, to punish or get revenge on the other guy, is “no”. There are better ways to fix things. And if things can’t be resolved, meditation (no, I didn’t mean mediation) may be a better bet.
Even when a wrong has been done, a lawyer’s office should often be your second or even third stop rather than your first. It’s amazing how open and honest conversation between budding adversaries can sometimes resolve a festering dispute. However, when you’ve exhausted your good faith or your patience or, for some reason, you’re sure the conversation would just be gossip, seeking balanced legal advice may be the most practical thing to do. TO DO.
Also, keep in mind the proportion. If you have a $5 dispute, would you pay $50 to resolve it? Sometimes, no matter how unfair something is, seeking justice for a trivial wrong just doesn’t make economic sense. This is often especially true in the “American system” where most of the time each party bears its own attorney fees. If the lawyer will cost you more than what’s at stake, it’s time to rethink the meaning of locking the legal horns.
Many small cases can be resolved in Small Claims Court where most of the time lawyers are not allowed and which is set up for this purpose. In this context, “small cases” means disputes not exceeding $7,500 in amount. While $7,500 can be real dough, hiring a lawyer for such an amount can reduce what you end up with in your pocket to an outcome that wouldn’t make sense. Better to try your luck on your own.
Except in exceptional circumstances, minor traffic violations rarely warrant the assistance of a lawyer. There are, of course, exceptions.
So when do you need a lawyer?
When a major financial dispute cannot be resolved, it may be time to hire a lawyer. Contract issues, many real estate transactions, estate planning, buying or selling a business, labor disputes, criminal charges, civil rights injustices, and many other matters deserve legal attention. dedicated, advice and often a zealous defense. When the other party hires a lawyer, it can also be a sign to retain your own lawyer.
Do you need a lawyer?
Sometimes you do; sometimes not quite yet; and other times, “no” may be the best call.
Rohn K. Robbins is a licensed attorney with the bars of Colorado and California who practices as an attorney in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Caplan & Earnest, LLC. His areas of practice include business and commercial transactions; real estate and development; family law, custody and divorce; and civil litigation. Robbins can be reached at 970-926-4461 or [email protected]. His novels, “How to Raise a Shark (an apocryphal tale)”, “The Stone Minder’s Daughter” and “Why I Walk so Slow” are currently available from top booksellers around the world; to come, “He said they were from Mars.”