Finding a lawyer: Another story

A better attorney, for the purposes to which his life was devoted, did not exist in London than Mr Camperdown. To say that he was honest, is nothing. To describe him simply as zealous, would be to fall very short of his merits. The interests of his clients were his own interests, and the legal rights of the properties of which he had the legal charge, were as dear to him as his own blood. But it could not be said of him that he was a learned lawyer. Perhaps in that branch of a solicitor’s profession in which he had been called upon to work, experience goes further than learning. – Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds

True story. My friend R. once retained a small town local lawyer in one of those “M” states to execute a property transfer. R. gave the lawyer all the pertinent information, filled out and signed the necessary documents.

R. himself lives in Washington, D.C. After a while, when he became aware that the transfer had not been completed, R. talked to the local lawyer. “I can’t file because you didn’t fill in the state you live in,” the lawyer said, rather testily.

“Sure I did,” R. said. “I live in Washington, D.C.”

“But what’s the state?” said the lawyer, even more testy now. “You have to put in the state name!”

“I live in the District of Columbia,” R. said. “You’ve heard of the District of Columbia?” “Of course,” snapped the lawyer, “but what state is it in?”

[Gratuitous comment: Washington, D.C. stands alone as a political entity, is not part of any state, has a population greater than or equal to several states, yet has no one-person one-vote representation in Congress. Wyoming gets to elect and be represented by two senators, both Republican; Washington, D.C.’s overwhelmingly Democratic population has no senatorial representation.]

After a moment of OMG silence, I jumped to another point with R.  Was this guy a real estate specialist? “No,” R. said. “Just a local lawyer, a generalist.” Where had R. found this lawyer? R.’s sister, who lived full time in the “M” state small town, had used him and liked him.

I collected these two tales—about M.’s experience with a lawyer and today’s, about R.’s—in one day. If I keep asking, I’m sure I could hear one bad lawyer story every day.

But I won’t. Instead, let us now draw several lessons about how not to find a lawyer from this and yesterday’s “legal” stories, because they are exemplary of a couple of points I want to make.


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