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What Personality Style of Attorney Do You Want?

It is a fact that every attorney is different from all other attorneys. This is obvious for people who have frequent contact with attorneys. There are differences in knowledge, experience, temperament, interest, connections, confidence, age, reputation, and on and on. On top of the unique characteristics of each attorney, there is the consideration of chemistry. When people look for an attorney, they need to meet with the attorney and get to know him/her. Clients need to make sure there's a good connection on multiple levels.

One of the factors that is often overlooked is how decision-making is shared between attorney and client. Just as in other facets of the attorney-client relationship, there are a variety of approaches. Here are some common ones, from my observation.

Paternal/Controlling/Directing — Strong, experienced attorney who makes the decisions and then tells the client what to do. These attorneys often feel that it is their “duty” to tell clients what to do, even if the client wants something very different. This is a fairly common approach. The attorney doesn't need to consult with the client to find out what the client wants to do or not do. What often happens, if the attorney finds out the client's feelings, is that the client's wishes are often overruled by the attorney. Sometimes that creates friction between attorney and client. Other times a client feels well protected and cared for. Either way, the result is often a more protracted court case and higher attorney's fees.

Avenging Angel — Defender of a client perceived by the attorney to be weak and unable to defend her/himself. This is usually a “light” version of the Controlling attorney. Here, the attorney guides and directs the client, but is willing to jump in and make decisions for the client who the attorney believes is incapable or ineffective in looking out for the client's own best interests. Mouthpiece — Speaks for the client using the client's words; little input from the attorney. Whatever the client wants, the attorney will advocate it, even if the attorney knows or should know that the action will be counterproductive. This attorney sees him/herself as standing in the client's shoes, doing what the client wants to do, but doing it better — following the proper legal channels. Partnership — Fairly equal participation. This attorney becomes an ally and often is not very objective. The attorney will listen to the client and discuss what the client wants and needs. They will often talk strategy and the attorney explains things to the client, allowing the client to have some input in decision-making.

Goal-focused Facilitator — Tries to work at a higher level, focusing on what's truly important to the client; gives pros and cons and lets the client make the decision. This attorney works to create an informed and empowered client. Some attorneys are aware of what type of attorney personality they have, but many are not. Those who are unaware simply believe, based on what they were taught or observed, that their style is the only way (or best way) to practice law.

Some attorneys will switch from one style to another, depending on the circumstances and the personality of their clients.

What should you do about this? Before you meet with an attorney, try to find former clients and others who know the attorney whom you can talk with. When you are interviewing an attorney to hire for a case, ask questions about how the attorney views his/her relationship with the client and listen carefully to how the attorney describes his/her actions in prior cases. What you are looking for is someone you are comfortable with. There's no single right answer for everyone. It's usually best to follow your gut instinct as you decide whether the chemistry is right when choosing your lawyer.