Interviewer: What are some of the qualities that someone should be looking for? At the same time, what are some red flags?
Robert Cummings: Well, I think when hiring an attorney, you need to look at the track record. You need to look at the experience. You need to ask if they have handled representative cases. You need to ask what resources they have, look at their credentials, look at their website. Where have they worked? Who are their partners? Where have their partners worked? What schools did they go to? There are a lot of considerations that go into looking at whether an attorney is a good attorney.
The Most Important Thing to Consider When Retaining an Attorney for a Civil Suit is the Personal Comfort Level
That being said, I think the most important thing is a personal comfort level with the attorney because as these cases can go on, you need to be comfortable with your attorney. Three months into it, you might not like your attorney. So, I think the biggest red flag, on the flipside, is go with your gut. If you are sitting down with somebody and there is something in your stomach saying , “I don’t like this person. There’s something wrong here,” go with your gut. Talk to another attorney. Just because you sit down with an attorney and have a free consultation does not mean that you have to hire that attorney. It is kind of like dating. Just because you go on the first date does not mean you have to marry the person.
Shop around. Ask friends and family. What attorneys do they know? Do they know any personally? That is where a lot of attorneys get their clients is that personal referral base. But, I think the biggest thing just comes down to what your comfort level is with the person.
The other thing though, too, is that you do not want a “yes sir” person. You are hiring an attorney to go to battle for you. If you sit down with the person and they always agree with you and say: “Absolutely. You’re going to win, totally,” or, “You’re going to be acquitted in your criminal case,” or, “We’re totally going to stick it to your ex,” the attorney is not being fair and balanced. They are most likely not giving you a proper analysis of the case.
An Attorney Should Give an Honest Assessment of the Case
An attorney should give you what the pros are, what the cons are, what the downside is, what the upside is, and control your expectations. An attorney should under promise and over deliver. That is from a client management perspective. That is from a proper practice viewpoint. That is from ethics. But, you need to sit down and see how the attorney analyzes the case. If everything comes up roses and you walk out of the office feeling like you are the champ and you are going to take over the world, it feels good, but that might not be the right decision. You should walk out with a good understanding of your case and the upsides and downs, the pros, the cons, all of that.
Timeframe of Resolution for a Civil Lawsuit in the State of Utah
Interviewer: How long can a case potentially last?
Robert Cummings: If it is a small claims case, you could be in court within three months and have the matter resolved. That is for disputes under ten thousand dollars. On the other hand, huge complex civil matters can take years. For example, my old law firm was representing the maker of Bratz in its lawsuit against Barbie. It was Mattel versus MGA. That case had gone on for years and had been appealed up to the Ninth Circuit twice. It had gone to trial twice. The first was a very long trial, several months. But, that is a very high end, multi-billion dollar companies on each side litigating a case. You have the same thing right now between Samsung and Apple in Northern California, big heavy hitters on each side going to war for years.
The Time frame of Resolution is Dependent on the Complexities and Intricacies of Each Individual Case
For the traditional case here in Utah, as I kind of mentioned, the rules of civil procedure, specifically Rule 26, has a general outline of how long you have for discovery and how long you have for expert discovery and when a case should ultimately be ready for trial, with the longest being around a year. That does not mean that every case will be tried within a year. Parties can agree to longer deadlines. Parties can negotiate a case for a year, and then agree thereafter to do more discovery. I have had cases that are two to three, four years old just resolving. Other cases are being litigated for several months, with no end in sight. So, it really all depends. A lot of times, you can file a case, and that wakes up the other side, and they roll over pretty quickly, and you can get the case resolved within a matter of weeks. But, it all just depends on the complexities and the intricacies and the specific facts of each case.