Vital Personal Qualities of Your Legal Counselor

Joseph Warren Kniskern, attorney with more than 30 years experience, suggests that you must feel comfortable with and trust whoever is going to represent you. Before you start interviewing a potential lawyer think about the qualities you need in a lawyer.

By Joseph Warren Kniskern
Updated: September 04, 2014
Family Lawyers

Finding the right lawyer is critical to making life less traumatic during a divorce. You must feel comfortable with and trust whoever is going to represent you. If someone does not inspire confidence, then keep looking. Seeking a competent lawyer is not enough. Consider the personal qualities your lawyer should have before you start interviewing candidates.

From a legal standpoint, you should reasonably expect your lawyer to provide you with high-quality legal work; consistently give quick reaction time handling your case and responding to questions and concerns; offer you advice in simple English; counsel you on options and relative risks involved in reaching your goals within the law; and, above all, offer solutions to problems that keep litigation and your legal expense to a minimum.

On a more personal level, look for these qualities in your lawyer:

Scrupulous Honesty and Integrity
Lawyers are traditionally "officers of the court" in a judicial system pledged to a continuing "search for truth." Since some lawyers today do not cherish honesty and integrity to the same degree as their predecessors, the legal profession has lost public confidence. Most lawyers, however, are honorable men and women. With good references and a wise selection, you can easily avoid the few undesirables.

Honesty and integrity will keep your attorney from routinely assuring you that everything is fine when caution about issues and problems is needed. Honesty requires frank discussions and accurate appraisals of your case instead of unfounded promises. It is very tempting amid tough economic times and cutthroat competition for business to put the client's best interest aside. Those who fall prey to this flaw cultivate various deceits. They exaggerate legal qualifications, dodge responsibilities, pad bills, unnecessarily run up legal time, and tell "white lies." Some believe that "lies are necessary in order to live," to paraphrase Nietzsche. But in his 1847 address to the Charleston, South Carolina, Bar Association, Daniel Webster rebuked this attitude: "Tell me a man is dishonest, and I will answer he is no lawyer. He cannot be, because he is careless and reckless of justice; the law is not in his heart and is not the standard and rule of his conduct."

A dear friend, who endured a very expensive divorce lasting more than four years with numerous appeals, told me her case could have ended much sooner had she known of the pitfalls. Her attorney used charm, power, and authority to influence her decisions. Whenever she had doubts about strategies, her lawyer assured her: "Don't worry about it. That's why you hired us." As my friend worried about the mounting expenses and moving on with her life, she was told, "You're charming, intelligent, and sophisticated. You'll be married again in two years." After many months, however, her lawyer threw up his hands and announced that nothing more could be done. She was to sign a settlement much less favorable than one she originally wanted to accept, or find another lawyer.

Without honesty and integrity, you and your lawyer, your case, and your credibility with the court will suffer. A good, honest lawyer will give you the respect and loyalty that are vital to your relationship.

Sensitive and Perceptive Communication
If your attorney is unable to write clearly or speak persuasively, the best legal arguments will be to no avail. Look for lawyers who speak with clarity, precision, focus, and persuasion. Note those who strive to help people understand issues rather than give a prepared speech. If your lawyer is arrogant or filled with vain pride, he or she will not be genuine in dealing with others or listen with empathy. Such a person has too many personal problems to help you. Does your lawyer have a sense of humor? When inevitable frustrations arise in your case and you become impatient and anxious, will your attorney react with appropriate humor and assurance?

Good communicators come in both genders. Some feel female lawyers are more supportive than male attorneys. Others believe male lawyers will gain more power and control over the case, the courtroom, and the judge. Do not overrate these concerns, however. Gender is less of a consideration than legal competence and positive personal attributes.

Good Judgment and Common Sense
Those knowledgeable about hiring lawyers often rank good judgment about human nature above technical knowledge of the law. A brilliant lawyer who gives impeccable legal opinions may alienate others and destroy your case. There is no substitute for life experiences and the maturity that comes from understanding how and why people think and act as they do. Your lawyer should have empathy for others, and understand issues and motivations. Will your attorney see only your side of matters instead of the "big picture" -- the needs and desires of your spouse, opposing counsel, witnesses, and the judge? If you find a lawyer with rigid preconceptions rather than one who is a good listener, that person is not for you.

Like anyone else, attorneys' egos and emotions may get out of hand at times. Professionals in the law sometimes get caught up in the action and competition. Look for a lawyer who keeps the ego in check and jealously holds onto a rational perspective of your case. The best lawyer will be a person who exercises mature judgment, reflects on decisions before actions are taken, and relies heavily on moral as well as legal reasoning.

Disciplined Toughness
While your lawyer must be objective, perceptive, communicative, and rational, you do not want an attorney who is wishy-washy or fearful of difficult negotiations. Your attorney should be tough but fair, one who feels comfortable negotiating settlement agreements or addressing the court. When circumstances require aggressive action, your lawyer must rise promptly to the challenge. If your lawyer does not inspire this confidence in you, others will see this weakness and exploit it to your disadvantage.

Disciplined toughness does not mean having an arrogant or belligerent attitude. Some describe the proper balance as being a "velvet-covered brick". There should be a sensitivity and tenderness to the heartbreak of the parties to a divorce, but a firm and uncompromising stand against dishonest exploitation or unnecessary cruelty in the legal process on anyone's part.

Creativity in Finding Constructive Solutions
This goes beyond molding the facts into an argument that will win at all costs. A good lawyer will always be solution-oriented with the goal of reducing time and expense through reasonable compromises, especially whenever volatile situations can be easily defused. Why run up legal bills arguing over an inexpensive household item? A wise lawyer explores alternatives to resolve issues quickly through concessions on other important issues rather than major on the minors.

A lawyer having the personal qualities listed above is rare but not impossible to find.


Joseph Warren Kniskern is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina with more than 32 years of experience, who has been cited in Who's Who in American Law. This article has been excerpted with permission from When the Vow Breaks: A Survival and Recovery Guide for Christians Facing Divorce (B&H Publishing Group, revised edition copyright @ 2008).

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September 05, 2008
Categories:  Family Lawyers

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