Finding a lawyer: Read newspapers

On January 21, 2011, a full year ago, I wrote about how to prepare for a lawsuit long before you sue — long before you even suspect you might have to sue.

A close friend called me to say that she thought my post made me sound a little paranoid. Why should I be suggesting that people read newspapers and clip lawsuit information, prepping for a lawsuit that doesn’t yet exist, may never exist? Wasn’t this a fearful Armageddonish approach?

I laughed. I get to laugh because I am not at all paranoid. But I do grant that it would perhaps seem odd for you to be clipping and filing articles about lawsuits so early on. And just in case.

But since then I have learned that 30 million new civil lawsuits are filed in the United States every year. Chances are pretty good that you’ll be among those millions of plaintiffs. And now that I’m going back to my suggestion about clipping news articles about lawsuits and lawyers, I realize that my very early preparatory advice, i.e., my “paranoid” advice, is particularly apt.

Here’s why. Last week, the New York Times had an interesting piece in the City Room column, written by Sam Roberts, a veteran Times reporter. It is called “Four Decades of Legal Experience, and Just Getting Started.”

Read it. You’ll learn about the four highly experienced lawyers — two of them once New York Supreme Court judges — who are just now starting a small law firm. Norman Siegel, Herbert Teitelbaum, Saralee Evans and Emily Jane Goodman have a collective 161 years of legal experience. They are all over 60 years old.

Although they’ll take on a variety of cases, their firm will specialize in civil liberties law, which makes a lot of sense since Norman Siegel was the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

I know of most of these names, of course. And if I had a case that suited them, I’d go to their firm in a second.

But unless you were reading newspapers every day and at least glancing through information about lawyers, you wouldn’t know about them. And how would you find out when you do need a civil rights lawyer?

That’s the problem. Of course, you could google “civil rights lawyers.” But you’d wind up not with Norman Siegel, et al., but with a variety of legal web sites listing lawyers, yes, and in their specialties, yes, but watch out. Because most of these sites list lawyers who pay for the listings. It’s advertising. This is no better a recommendation than if you call an 800 number after seeing one of those dreadful TV commercials for lawyers who, among other qualities that make me suspicious, can’t act. (One of them really drives me crazy: although clearly a New Yorker, he’s wearing a cowboy hat! You know which one I mean.)

So here’s some early advice: don’t call lawyers who sell themselves on TV. Just don’t.

But how would you learn about Norman Siegel’s new firm if you weren’t reading the Times? Well, you could search on the Times on-line edition for … what? What would be your search term? “Civil rights lawyer”?

Yes, you could do it. I just tried and got four articles about civil rights lawyers published in the Times over the past 30 days. But none of them was Sam Robert’s piece.

Isn’t it easier to pay attention when you read the newspapers, keeping in mind — if not in a file — lawyers who seem to have done really well for their clients?

Yeah. It’s easier than having to do the research under pressure and ex post facto.



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