By Dale Gribow
The most common question that I get, at least once a day, (and often 3-6 times a day) is what will it cost and can you win my case?. You would not think to ask a new doctor over the phone and before an appointment “can you cure me and what will it cost?” The pain in your stomach could be from eating at a greasy spoon that day or from the flu or cancer etc. Most people do not have cancer. However, a lawyer can no more tell you what will happen and what it will cost than a doctor over the phone. If a lawyer tells you what is going to happen on your case then he/she is not being honest with you. Most legal malpractice cases come from an attorney trying to give advice without hearing ALL the facts. Thus on all cases, except accidents and criminal matters, there is a fee for the consultation for up to an hour of time.
Before you see the doctor the staff takes a history and often blood pressure and your weight and an EKG as well as your heart rate etc. If you do not write out in detail all the facts before seeing a lawyer you will be spending most of your appointment having the lawyer play secretary. Since it is usually the client paying for the time it is not fair to charge for that extra time (but we do) and that is why I suggest a detailed summary of the facts.
On a CIVIL matter where you are being sued or are going to sue someone if the opposing party “papers” you to death it will be more costly than if they just try to get the matter to court as quickly as possible without a lot of discovery. I often tell a prospective client the issue is not always who is right but who has the deeper pockets to hang in there. On civil matters retainers are almost always on an hourly and if the other side’s attorney senses that you cannot “hang in there” they will run motions etc just to wear you down and use up all your money. If you cannot afford to stay in the game I often suggest to a client they throw good money after bad. In other words it makes no difference if you have a case if you cannot afford to pay a lawyer to see it through.
We just had a local Country Club Developer who had run out of money a year ago and who had a bill with us for $650,000 in fees plus $50,000 in costs I advanced, file Bankruptcy. We were to be paid out of escrow as the property was being sold but it fell out of escrow and the client did not have the funds to continue and they filed BK.
On REAL ESTATE & ESTATE PLANNING matters the attorney has to gather all the information before giving any legal advice. Three years ago I had a lovely 80+ year old lady with beautiful white hair in the office. She paid for a two hour consult. As I was walking her out the door and saying good bye she mentioned something she had not said in our consultation nor was it in the summary she had prepared. I told her to come back in and that our advice was no longer correct. In a buy-sell agreement the spouse has to sign off on it or it is not valid and one winds up being partners with a spouse.
An ACCIDENT case is on a contingency so it is the lawyer who is gambling during a downward period where insurance companies are offering very little money on the average case. With an Accident case it is important that the injured party go to a hospital or ER and see a doctor within 24 hours that is not their regular doctor. That is because we all have skeletons in our closest that can affect the value of a case. I had a case a few years ago where I was representing a lovely Catholic lady and we had a $40,000 offer on the table and she ordered me to accept it. I told her if we just showed up on the trial date they would probably up the offer to $60,000 and if we started the trial, we could possibly get $80,000. She was insistent we settle because her husband advised her he was going to come to court with her. She had 5 kids and had gotten pregnant again and did not want to have another child so she had an abortion but did not tell her husband. She said her marriage was worth more than the couple of dollars more she could get…so we accepted the $40,000. Instead of an abortion it could be a venereal disease or an addiction to alcohol or drugs or something else the client does not want to have everyone hear about.
If the client has talked to the insurance company for the party at fault, we normally do not accept the case. It is not just what the client tells the insurance company but rather what they “think” they heard and what they write down….which can be two entirely different matters. A prior auto accident or slip and fall around the pool can be used by the insurance company as a preexisting condition whereby the insurance company tries to argue all of the current symptoms are from that old injury.
On a DUI (DRUNK DRIVING) and other CRIMINAL matters it is important to get a detailed summary. A lawyer is looking for prior DUI’s or criminal records etc. If the prior is within three years then the DUI client is on probation and is not supposed to have a drink before driving. The lawyer also has to deal with a probation violation too. If the DUI is within 10 years then it counts as a prior and DMV will usually take the license to drive away. If the DUI driver talked to the cops then we need to know what he/she told them and what the police said to the client. If the driver says I had 2 beers and they had a .21 breath reading then we know it is scientifically impossible to have that reading unless the machine was not working properly. The DA would use that information to suggest to the jury that the DUI driver was not honest at the scene so why should we expect him/her to be honest in what they tell the court.
We have a DUI where the client came in with a run of the mill DUI in Indio but they had a prior DUI 8-9 months before in another jurisdiction. They said that was their only contact with law enforcement. When we got the police report we see that the client asked the officer not to arrest him because he could not afford another DUI on his record. That alerted the CHP to run his record and do what they can to keep him off the street. The records we obtained also showed a misdemeanor that was reduced to an infraction. The DA will look at that as another contact with the police by the time he was 19 years old. A few months later with the case still pending he got his 3rd DUI. This totally changes what we can accomplish for the client on his second.
The basic advice I give clients is “do not talk to anyone about your legal matter because we do not know who knows whom…………and take down your social media.”
You can’t have a DUI arrest and then have pictures of you at parties with alcohol in your hands on facebook. Nor can you be in an accident and show pics on facebook of your playing tennis or golf.
If you have any questions regarding this column or ideas for future columns please contact Dale Gribow at Dale Gribow Attorney at Law at our NEW number 760 837-7500 and or our new email of firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note our new address, phone, fax number and email below:
Dale S. Gribow
Attorney at Law
74-923 Highway 111 # 206
Indian Wells, CA 92210
Fax: 760 837 7502