Podcast With Attorney Jacob Small: The First Steps to Take When You Get Fired TranscriptTranscript
Male: Fired from your job? Afraid you might be fired? Are you facing other problems at work? Listen to what the lawyers have to say about it. Here’s your host, Attorney Tom Spiggle.
Tom: All right, thanks for joining me today on the “I Got Fired” podcast. This is for people who have been fired, or afraid they might be, and I am pleased to be joined today by my colleague, Jacob Small, who has his own firm here in Virginia in McLean, and I’ll let Jacob…you can tell folks, where they find you persuasive on this podcast, if they wanna call you, how they can find you.
Jacob: Sure. Well, my firm is J. Madison PLC. We’re located in McLean, Virginia. You can find me on the web at www.jmadisonplc.com. And we represent employees much like you do, Tom. We represent employees who are having difficulties at work, either they’ve been fired, see it might be coming, or dealing with a difficult situation at work.
Tom: Excellent. Well, I really appreciate, again, you joining me today. We’re going to be talking, today, about suppose that somebody has been fired or afraid they might be. Our last podcast was on how to do some of your own research. You’ve done some research, you think you wanna reach out to an attorney, and how that happens. And so I wanna talk to you, Jacob, about if your sister, if she did not live in Virginia, but lived somewhere else, in a different state, and called you and said, “Hey, I just got fired, and I’m thinking about calling an attorney.” How would you start her on that process?
Jacob: Well, I think that the first thing I’d recommend to my sister or anybody that I cared about, or even our potential clients that we can’t help, is to send them to the local affiliate for the National Employment Lawyers Association. And what I always tell folks is that when you are looking for an employment attorney, you really want somebody who’s competent and focused on this area of law. And the National Employment Lawyers Association is the national trade association for attorneys who take representing employees seriously.
There’s a limit on the amount of management-side work that members can engage in, and the NELA, as we call it, has local affiliates here in Virginia or Northern Virginia, it’s either the Virginia Employment Lawyer’s Association or the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association. And when you’ve done enough research that you think it’s worth your while to speak with counsel about the circumstance you’re dealing with at work, it’s a really good idea to look for an attorney who’s a member of one of those groups. And most of those local affiliate groups and the national group have attorney finders that will help you find attorneys who are members.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s great advice, and we’ll put these in the show notes. But that’s www.nela.org, and if you’re in the D.C. area, the metro area, it’s the Metropolitan Washington Lawyers Employment Association, just because they want to make it really difficult to pronounce, and that is www.mwela.org. I absolutely agree. I always tell folks that if somebody has gone through the trouble to get listed on either of those lists, either of those programs, they’re gonna know what they’re talking about.
Let me ask you this, though, let’s say that you’re somebody that’s not as fortunate to live in an area like D.C. where there’re gonna be a number of choices, but they live in some other state, in some other rural area, and there are only one or two that they can find on NELA, and for whatever reason that they can’t take the case or they haven’t been in contact them, or there are situations where you find somebody that appears to be good, but they’re not listed on NELA, what would you say…what are some indicia that you would look for, you know, to say that somebody might know what they’re doing when it came to employment law?
Jacob: It’s a good idea, even if you do find a NELA member, to make sure that you’re comfortable with the attorney that you speak to. And there’s a number of reasons why you might or might not be comfortable with an attorney. But if you’re gonna be involved in dispute resolution with the assistance of an attorney, there are a few things that are really important that you’ll be able to rely upon. First, are you comfortable being in their presence and being open with them about what happened?
When you have an attorney-client relationship in a matter that is as sensitive as employment litigation, and employment disputes can be, it’s really important that you be open with your attorney, and you trust yourself and them to have open lines of communication. So, when you speak with somebody, whether they’re a member of NELA or a local affiliate or not, if you sense that there is an openness there, and that there’s trust, and that you really feel like you can trust what they’re saying, and they have the right answers, I think that’s a good sign.
And similarly, if you’re meeting with somebody and they don’t appear to be terribly interested in your case, or you just don’t feel comfortable with them, I think that you should do what you do in many areas of your life when you don’t feel comfortable with a situation is just go ahead and keep on looking. So, you can also ask attorneys that you’re interviewing or speaking with about their experience handling employment law matters, and it’s important that the attorney who you elect to represent you in an employment dispute, an employment law dispute, it’s important that they have experience handling those matters.
Or if they don’t, if you are aware of that and they’re open with you, and they help you understand how that might affect their representation. And it may, in some circumstances, mean they operate a little bit more slowly, that they have to do a little bit more research or they that they have to look to colleagues in the industry that they may have to ask questions to. And to some extent, all of us attorneys do that. We’re all learning all the time. We’re always speaking with colleagues in our area, in the area of our profession, and we’re always learning.
And so I would not suggest to somebody that they refuse to hire an attorney who would be their first employment law case, of course, then no one would ever have their first case. But you wanna be comfortable, and you wanna have open lines of communication, and it is important that if you’re not hiring an attorney who’s got some level of experience handling this kind of matter if there’s a good reason that you went with that and you’ve made that decision with your eyes open.
Tom: Yeah, I mean, that’s good. Now you and I know, because we live in this world, that there is a difference or can be a difference in folks who do…attorneys do management side. They represent the company, and attorneys like you and I who represent the employee. What would you say to somebody, when they’re going to an attorney’s website, how would they know whether it’s plaintiff or management side?
Jacob: Well, I think that most folks who have dedicated themselves to the business of representing employees will normally say so on their website, and in the material that they send you. I know that on our website, we make it a point to make sure that our potential clients understand that we don’t represent management in any circumstances. And, normally, the companies or the firms that are representing management are gonna make that clear on their website too. You can also look at, for example, their blog postings, their written material there, they will be targeted to different audiences.
Now, I don’t think that let’s say that you’re looking for an attorney to help you with an employment matter, and you find an attorney who does both management and employee work, that shouldn’t be a disqualifier to you if the other things we’ve already spoken about are good. So, for example, if you sit down with somebody and you ask them questions about your situation, and they go over it with you carefully, the facts of your case and the circumstances, and help you understand how the law applies, and you’re comfortable with them, and there’s a trust there, there’s a level of trust there, then you may not care that they do management-side work.
As a matter of fact, you might think that in some circumstances that would be a benefit to have someone who can see both sides of the fence. But if you’re looking for somebody who exclusively represents employees, and it’s not clear in their website, just ask.
Tom: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. And then one thing I will add to that is for folks who are doing their own, as everybody does, mostly doing the internet search, you may pull up management-side firm websites first because they’re good websites, and they have a lot of material. I don’t know about you, Jacob, I’m sure you do, but we get both referrals and people who have called some of the bigger firms, that are very good firms, but for instance, like, you know, Jackson Lewis or Mendelson, and if you call these guys, you cannot even get an attorney on the line, you’re gonna get the receptionist.
And just understand that it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a case, it’s just that they don’t represent individual clients. Now that doesn’t mean that their websites are good. I often tell people, you know, you can find some really good information on those websites. They have some really good blogs, but just to keep in mind that they are writing from a management-side perspective. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad folks, but that means that they want management…they’re sympathetic to management side.
But just to be aware, when you get to those websites, that if they’re talking about management side issues, it’s not clear that they represent employees, you may be looking at a firm that only represents companies. And you’re right, Jacob, you could always call. They’re not gonna be mean to you, they will just tell you they don’t represent individuals, and they may give you a referral. And as you suggest, Jacob, and, you know, you and I both know people like this that are very good attorneys, and they do represent both sides.
And they tend not to be bigger firms, but they’re, you know, smaller or medium-sized firms, and they may represent a couple of small businesses, and they’ll represent employees, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Let me ask you this, you know, a popular site that you and I are both on and very familiar with, Avvo. Let’s say that somebody goes to Avvo when they’re trying to find an employment lawyer. Any tips or recommendations you would give about how to use that site, and anything that the users should be aware of when they’re looking through Avvo trying to find somebody?
Jacob: Sure, the first thing to understand about Avvo is that it’s a marketing site. And if you don’t know this, and you’re looking for an attorney, you might be a bit confused. So, Avvo has a few things. They got listings and they have attorney profiles, and the attorney profiles have a rating. And if you don’t understand how Avvo generates its ratings, it’s a system that attorneys, like you and I, I’d imagine you do it, I know that I do it, we do what we can to make sure that that rating looks as good to potential clients as it can.
And why is that? Well, because it’s our public face out there in the marketplace. We don’t have a choice about whether Avvo shows a listing for us or not, all we’ve really got a choice about is whether that listing looks good for putting the best foot forward. But I think that Avvo shows just about every attorney who’s licensed in a jurisdiction on there, and it can be that in some cases the attorneys never claim that site, and they never go in there and claim their profile and put up a picture, and do what they need to do to get that Avvo rating up.
So, the first thing that you should understand, I think, is that the Avvo rating is not necessarily the most important indicator of whether or not this is an attorney who’s gonna be able to assist you, or gonna be competent in your area. Understand that that, to some extent, is marketing. Now the listings, Avvo has the ability for attorneys to pay for premier placement in the listings, and I think that a lot of law firms pay for spots in Avvo, I know that I’ve paid for spots in Avvo, because all of us are out here looking for clients to help.
And it doesn’t mean that the law firm is a bad law firm or a good law firm if they’re at the top of an Avvo listing. You should just understand it’s possible that they got there by paying for that position. And I think that Avvo is a good site for people who are looking for attorneys in a field. It should be a good place to find a lot of the attorneys in your area, or in your jurisdiction as we might say, that practice in a given area like employment law. Most of the folks who are trying to find clients in a marketplace, for a specific area of law, will use Avvo to help find those clients. But you’re not gonna find all of them, and you should understand, to some extent, what you’re seeing from Avvo is marketing material.
Tom: Yeah, I think I that that’s absolutely right. I tell folks that Avvo is a great site, but there’s a fair amount of buyers beware with the site because you’re right, and I mean, you know, and the ratings, they’re something to look at, but I think…I know both you and I know folks who are fantastic attorneys who have not claimed their profile on Avvo, and if you go there they’re gonna be…you know, they’re gonna have a low rating. But that doesn’t mean…just because they haven’t claimed their site, and it’s not a place they look for clients, it doesn’t mean that they’re a bad attorney.
I mean, that said, I do think Avvo is…somebody has gone through the trouble to get…as I know you have…to get yourself on Avvo and to put material up there. You know, I think it’s something to keep in mind. I mean, if you’ve found somebody on NELA or MWELA or, you know, some other site, to go check them out on Avvo is not bad. I wouldn’t rule out somebody for that, but I do think it can be a useful site, as you say, understanding that attorneys…you know, it’s Avvo’s business model. They want to provide an attorney’s incentive to pay them money, nothing wrong with that, in order to try to market their services. So, the folks who are all over it, as we are, as my firm is, pay for advertising and it’s something to keep in mind.
Jacob: One other thing to mention about Avvo is, you talked about fantastic attorneys that you and I both know who either elect or just don’t know about the ability of claiming their Avvo profile, is sometimes the attorneys who have the most experience and been in the market the longest, and really have some impressive skills that they can bring to bear on your behalf, those may be some of the attorneys who are disinclined to use something like Avvo just because it’s new, and it’s not what they’re used to. What they may be used to is standing up in court and giving you the best representation that you might possibly find. And it may just be that Avvo is not necessarily their skill set.
Tom: Absolutely. Or, you know, they’re that good that their phone is ringing enough, they don’t want Avvo, but Avvo are making it ring more, and they’re in that enviable position. So, you’re right. So, in some ways, some of the best attorneys, or some very good attorneys are gonna be the ones who don’t have their profiles claimed. Let me ask you, do you have any recommendations about other sites? And it’s fine if you don’t, but like, you know, Nolo has one. You know, you can find people on Yelp, Justia. Any thoughts on any of those?
Jacob: I don’t have any specific recommendations for any other sites. I think that what I would suggest is that…I know that my firm, we put a lot of attention into improving our organic Google search rankings in our local market. So, what we’ve tried to do is to communicate to the folks who are closest to us, the folks who live near us, that we’re well positioned to help them. And what you might do is just simply look into Google, looking for folks who are close to you. And if you’ve got an employment attorney, especially one who’s a member of NELA who has really done a good job of communicating their expertise to folks in your local area, that may be a good place to start.
Tom: Yeah, and that segues into my next question, you answered a good bit of it, but do you have anything else to add? If somebody does, which a lot of us do, goes to Google and types in, you know, “employment attorney in McLean,” you’ve mentioned, you know, seeing if they’re in NELA, seeing about what information they provide on-site. When Google gives that person the search results, what should they know and what should they be looking for?
Jacob: Well, I think the first thing to know is that you’re gonna find that sites like Avvo, and some of these other marketing sites, I think like attorneys.com, that because these are large corporations whose business is really to build a website, a comprehensive website, they’re gonna be oftentimes advantaged to have a higher search ranking than some of the actual law firms. So, if you go to Google and you’re searching, especially if you’re searching in a very large market, if you just search Washington, D.C. or New York City, for example, there are just gonna be a tremendous number of employees who might be positioned to help you.
But it’s gonna be the large companies who have hundreds of web developers and content writers who may be the first ones there. And it’s fine to use those sites to help you find attorneys, understanding you may not get everybody. So, you might have to scroll down a little bit on the page to find actual websites for the attorneys that you’re wanting to see. And then when you get to the website of an attorney that you wanna consider, I would say that you wanna take into account many of the things you take into account when you’re considering any company on the internet.
And I always think that a law firm, or even any company engaging in business on the web, that doesn’t have a clean and responsive and updated web presence is probably a company that is perhaps not got their eye on the ball in some places. It might be a bit unfair, but I think that, in this day and age, everybody expects that the marketplace is on the internet, and so I think you’d expect that just about everybody who takes their business seriously, and is a professional, is doing everything they can to make sure that that presence they’ve got out there is updated, up to date, and demonstrates their commitment to professionalism.
Tom: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think the only thing I would add, you know, similar to Avvo, there are still attorneys out there, again, maybe wanting to get further along in their practicing careers who don’t have robust websites, and that doesn’t…I think if you’re doing a Google search, and you’re on the first couple of pages, then you’re probably catching 90% of the top firms in your area. But it’s possible there’s a diamond in the rough out there that’s not…you know, doesn’t list on Google or doesn’t rank because they don’t, like as you mentioned, they get most of their business through referrals, and they’re not making that play on Google.
But they’re hard to find. I mean, if you’re doing a Google search, you have no idea, right? I mean, like, it’s better, I think, if you’re gonna find one of those attorneys to get that word of mouth referral because otherwise, you’re just calling everybody who’s on page five of Google, and a good many of them, there’s a reason they’re on page five of Google.
Jacob: That’s right. And, you know, there’s one thing that we haven’t touched on that is, to some extent, worth mentioning here and that’s the attorney that you have is always so important. As I mentioned at the top here, I really think it’s important you feel comfortable with your attorney. But one thing that you bring with you, and that doesn’t come from the attorneys, the facts of your situation. And the facts of your situation are gonna be one of the most…it’s gonna be the most determining factor in the results in your case.
And that’s not something that the attorney gets an opportunity to affect. So, I think that the first thing you wanna do is make sure you’re speaking with somebody who’s competent, who can…and the second thing is to make sure you’re comfortable with them. And then I think that in a lot of circumstances, a lot of attorneys would say that after that, to a large degree the attorney is less important than the facts. So long as you have got somebody who’s competent, who you can trust, and you know is professional, then one of the things that becomes really important is the case that you actually bring in the door.
Tom: Yeah. No, absolutely, it’s a good point. Let me ask you this, how important would you say is it to have an attorney in your area? And let me just say, I mean, obviously, in our area there are a number of good plaintiffs’ attorneys, and finding one may not be terribly difficult. But what if you live in an area where there’s not somebody local? Well, how important is it that you find somebody local? Is it important at all?
Jacob: I think it really depends on the situation. I know that there are circumstances where it’s very important that your attorney be local to you. There are circumstances where it’s probably entirely unimportant, and there are circumstances where there are probably some pluses and minuses and I’d like to walk through each of those real quick. Let’s assume that yours is a case that’s gonna be in litigation in a courthouse near you. The attorney is going to need to sit with you and do things like, for example, go over interrogatories, which is a legal tool that parties in litigation have to attract information from the other side.
They’re gonna need to sit down with you and help you explain them, and help you develop your answers. They’re gonna need to sit down with you and prepare you for your deposition. They’re gonna need to sit down and prepare you for your testimony. If the lawyer is remote, then there’s going to be a remote quality to that representation. Now it might be that the courthouse is not where you live. There’s a case that I was consulted on recently, where the litigation was here in Virginia, and the employee was on the West Coast.
And that’s not a situation where it’s realistic for you to have an attorney, or your primary attorney at least, your attorneys appearing in court, be somebody local. In that case, the most important thing is that the attorney who’s representing you be local to the courthouse. You want them to be practicing in that courthouse, to know who the judges are, to know who opposing counsel is, and to be able to go up to court when it’s necessary to do so. So, that’s a circumstance where you might not necessarily be able or be privileged to have an attorney who’s local to you.
And then the other circumstance is one where there may just be tradeoffs, and that might occur, for example, if you’re finding an employment attorney to help you with a matter that is maybe not yet or may never will become a litigation matter. And that might be a case where it just is not the most important thing that the attorney be local to you. You might live in an area where the attorneys, there are none who would handle employment law matters.
And if you don’t need the attorney to be local, and can work with an attorney in another jurisdiction, and you feel comfortable with them, and you have a good sense that they’re competent in the area, then I think it’s a great idea for you to consider attorneys out of your own market. I guess the main take away is that it probably just depends on your specific situation and what you need.
Tom: Tell folks what local counsel mean and how that works in that situation?
Jacob: Sure. So, a local counsel is what we would call it if an attorney is a member of the bar or a member of a list of attorneys who can practice before a court, but he’s not necessarily the primary attorney on the case. So, let’s say that you hire an attorney in your jurisdiction, but the litigation needs to happen in some other jurisdiction in which your attorney is not licensed, it’s possible for you to make an arrangement with a second attorney to serve as a local counsel, and then that local counsel would just as responsible for the case as your primary attorney.
They would, however, be the one who would normally go and make appearances in the court if one needed to be made, and they might vouch for the attorney you’re originally hired, what we call the pro hac vice admission. They might vouch for them, and present them to the court and say, “Your Honor, I’m gonna be the member of the bar here who vouches for this attorney and his ability to take care of this case, and to represent this client competently.”
Tom: And there’s not a right or wrong to this. But let’s say, you know, you’ve got somebody who’s gone through Google, and they found somebody in California they really like, and they call him up, and it goes well in the phone. And then they’re specialized in employment law, and they say, “Yeah, I can handle your case, but it looks like it’s gonna brought in Virginia. I can get local counsel in Virginia.” Is that a good idea? Should they look for…should that person not hire the person in California and look for somebody in Virginia on their own? What are the pluses and minuses of doing that?
Jacob: It strikes me that there’s probably a good reason why you would do that. Of course, if you’re gonna be paying two attorneys, there’s an obvious minus there. And the fact that you’re paying multiple attorneys means that you’d probably be exposed to more fees, in some circumstances anyway. But in that circumstance, it strikes me that you have an attorney who’s local to you, who you can go in and meet in their office, can give you the kind of face to face counsel that you’ll often need as a litigant, and who’s positioned to work with you in person, which I think is very important.
You’ll also have somebody local to the court, and I think it’s very common these days for there to be teams of counsel with multiple members and spread out across the country, and I would suggest that if you are living in one jurisdiction and litigating in another, then it’s probably a good idea to at least consider having an attorney in both jurisdictions. And, of course, the downside of that is that there’s just logistical issues, for example, how are you gonna pay the attorneys if you’re on an hourly fee agreement?
For example, if you’re paying the attorneys by the hour, then you’re gonna have to pay two attorneys. And each attorney will need to understand and know the case, and you’ll need to pay them for that. If you’re on a contingency fee arrangement and these attorneys are not members of the same firm, they’ll normally work out the arrangement amongst themselves. The contingency fee, of course, for your listeners who might not know, is an agreement between you and your attorney to withhold your requirement for paying the attorney’s fees until after the end. And normally you’d pay a portion of any recovery to the attorney.
And when you have a local counsel situation with a contingency fee agreement like that, very often the attorneys would work out amongst themselves in a manner that doesn’t result in a higher fee for you. And so those are, I guess, some of the logistical issues that you would need. In addition, you’ll need to normally coordinate where is the evidence gonna be situated? Where are you gonna meet? And how are you going to coordinate, perhaps, across multiple time zones? When are the filing deadlines? The filing deadlines may be in one time zone, and you may be living and working with your local counsel or your primary counsel in another.
So, there’s just some logistical issues that you’d wanna pay attention to. But I think that most attorneys these days who are involved in litigation are well positioned those issues and walk you through them.
Tom: Yeah. No, I think that’s all good stuff. One final question for you, then I’ll ask you if there’s anything I left out or anything else you wanna ask. But let me give let me give you this situation, which I’m sure you’ve run across. Somebody is having a problem at work, they do the natural thing, and they reach out to friends, and the friend says, “Hey, I’ve got a buddy who’s an attorney, he doesn’t do employment law, he does contracts, but he’s willing to talk to you.” What should that person be aware of or be thinking about when they talk to that contract attorney?
Jacob: I think that some of the things that I’ve already mentioned are really important here. And first I’d say it just probably doesn’t hurt to speak with an attorney that’s been referred to you by a friend. As a matter of fact, referrals from people that you trust to attorneys that they trust can be a really good way to find somebody that you’re comfortable with. And when you actually get to speaking with that attorney, though, you need to be paying attention to, one, is this the kind of work that this attorney does? And your hypothetical, it’s not. And that’s something you wanna pay attention to.
You might try to understand it. When this attorney goes to work and opens up their notebook and get started on working, it’s not employment issues that they’re working on. And I would not normally give anybody anything other than cursory advice or cursory kind of the cuff understanding of, for example, a personal injury situation or a criminal law situation or a, you know, tax run situation. It’s not because I’m not licensed to handle those matters. As an attorney in Virginia, I’m licensed to handle any legal matters. It’s because when I come to work every day I don’t do that kind of work, and so I’m less familiar with it and I wouldn’t be speaking from a position of experience.
So, if you’re gonna speak with an attorney, understand that just about any attorney who’s licensed and competent is gonna be able to give you some food for thought. But when it comes down to deciding which attorney you’re gonna represent, or when it comes down to actually trying to get to the bottom of a sticky legal situation, employment law situation, if you end up deciding to work with an attorney who doesn’t do employment law as a regular part of their practice, then I think you just wanna make sure you understand that that’s the situation, and there may be consequences to that.
So, if your buddy sends you out to someone who they recommend, and they don’t do employment law, I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t talk to them. Fine, talk with them, but just understand what you’re getting yourself into.
Tom: Absolutely. And, you know, one thing that I run into, and I’m sure you do as well, is somebody who has talked to a family member or a friend of a friend who’s an attorney, who’s not trying to take the case, but just, you know, trying to help a friend of a friend out. And the client comes to me, the potential client, and has misguided understanding of what their case is worth, both good or ill. You know, I’ve had it…you know, somebody come to me and say, “Hey, well my brother in law told me I had a great case.” And I said, “Well, your brother in law, you know, does traffic tickets.”
There’s nothing wrong doing traffic tickets, but as you mentioned, I wouldn’t advise, I mean, other than just a cursory conversation about somebody who does traffic tickets because I don’t do those, and I don’t know the local court. So, absolutely. I mean, if you’ve got an attorney that you can talk to that’s of a friend of a friend, there’s no reason not to have the conversation, but understand that that person, though well-meaning, may not have the most accurate beat on, you know, the strengths of your case and what’s it’s worth. So, take whatever you hear from him with a grain of salt.
Jacob: One thing to keep in mind is that most attorneys, in private practice anyway, have referral networks. We all, all of us attorneys who are in private practice, have folks that we trust, who we feel comfortable sending our own clients to when our clients need help in a different area. So, for example, if I have a personal injury client walking in my door, I know who I wanna send that to.
It’s somebody who I can feel comfortable sending it to. And it may be that a good way to find an actual employment attorney is to go ahead and have that five-minute conversation with your friend’s brother who’s a contract attorney. He may just say to you, “Look, I know a guy who does this. I know a woman who does this work, and these people are fantastic. Will you go on and talk to them? Just let them know that I sent you.”
And so that can be a really good way to find an attorney. But I totally agree with you. There are folks who come in the door who think that they’ve been counseled by an attorney that they really just have a case that’s worth an awful lot of money. And sometimes they have to do the unfortunate thing and say that, well, the law doesn’t provide the same sort of remedies that they thought they had when they walked in the door.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I remember, there’s one…actually, before we wrap up, one question I did wanna circle back on with Google because I know you have some expertise in this. But just in terms of…and when I say game, I don’t mean that pejoratively, both you and I play it. But when you’re doing a Google search, and there are ads that you pull up, and there are rankings, and you get, you know, the thumbnail that Google provides you based on reviews, what should people know when they’re doing a Google search about what those things mean?
Jacob: Well, I think that you just wanna understand that the search results from Google will also include advertisements that are paid for. And this can be a way for law firms that don’t necessarily have that high of a resolve in what we call the organic rankings that they’ve developed through time in the marketplace and adding content to the website and building a reputation. That may be a way for them to get into some of those top spots to help them find clients. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve done it before, and I don’t know whether you have, but a lot…
Tom: Yeah, we do it. A lot of them do it.
Jacob: Yeah, a lot of folks do it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just understand that, you know, much like the Yellow Pages or if you see an attorney’s listing on the side of a bus or on a billboard that you’re been marketed to there. And one thing I’ll tell you is that if a law firm is expanding their resources to go out there and try and find a specific kind of client, it may be an indication that they take representing those kinds of clients seriously. But you just need to understand that some of the results you’re gonna get from Google, normally they’re obvious to see because they say advertisement or ad on them. Some of those are marketing, and that’s what I think what you should take away from them.
Tom: Yeah. No, I think that’s great. I don’t have any more questions. Are there any other things, anything that I left out? Anything that you would like to say to folks about searching for a lawyer, an employment lawyer, that I’ve forgotten to ask you?
Jacob: Well, one thing I think that is a really big question that a lot of folks have is about whether or not you should pay a consultation fee for the initial meeting with your attorney. And I don’t know what you guys do in that circumstances, but I know there are a lot of people come to us expecting not to pay one. And what are your thoughts on that, Tom?
Tom: Yeah, no, I think it’s an excellent question and, you know, I’m of two minds about them. We charge a consult fee, and the reason that we do are twofold. I mean, we, as you know, I mean, it takes time to go through any case, particularly an employment case, which in many ways are more difficult than your average…I don’t mean in terms of handling, every law has its own kind of peculiarities, and I’m not suggesting other cases are easy. But, you know, if you’ve been arrested, you got a criminal case. If you’re getting a divorce, you got a divorce case.
Even with personal injury to a certain extent. If you got T-boned and somebody broke your leg, well chances are you got a case. Now I know I’m preaching to the choir here with you, Jacob, but folks might not understand is that employment is a different animal. You know, it can take an hour, sometimes more, depending on what kind of cause of action you’re looking at, to determine whether or not you have a case. And so for that reason, you know, we want the attorneys to block off enough time to be able to do that in order for…I mean, I think people understand that in private practice you can’t attorneys talking all day to folks for free, you know, we do charge a consult for that.
But I wouldn’t say that a firm that does not charge a consult that means that they’re a bad firm, it means they have a different business model, and they have somebody available to talk to you. Often that person…two situations, either you’ve got…there are solo practitioners or small firms, and they’ll answer their own phone, and that’s great, and you may get some good advice from them.
The second is you’ll have somebody who is either a paralegal or maybe a junior attorney, and they’re just screening cases for the strong ones, you know, that they can then bounce up to a more senior attorney to evaluate. Nothing wrong with that either, and you just gotta know what you’re getting. But tell me, what are your thoughts on that?
Jacob: Hey, I think I largely agree with just about everything you said there. I would just add, if you’re looking for an employment attorney, normally that means that you have a question about employment law, or you have a perception about employment law. And one of the things that we really take pride in is that when somebody pays us to come in and talk with us about an employment law issue, we want them to leave with a really comprehensive understanding of whether their rights have been violated, and if they have, what kinds of remedies the law might provide.
And a lot of folks come to us with a perception of the law that’s not quite true, or it’s not quite accurate, and it’s not their fault, it’s just that they don’t necessarily work in this area. For example, if a graphic designer came into me thinking that they had the best claim in the world, they would know 1,000 times more things about graphics design than I would, and that wouldn’t make me a bad person in the same way that we’re in a better position to assess their claim doesn’t make them a bad person. It just means that they need professional counseling to understand the value of that claim.
But what I would suggest to people is that if you are speaking with a law firm for free about your case, normally what you’re getting there, and there’s nothing wrong with this like you say, but what you’re getting there is you’re giving the firm an opportunity to try to vet you in a cost-effective way as part of their efforts to find good claims.
If you’re paying for somebody though, you have a right to expect, and I think you should expect, that you’re gonna get a benefit from that. And that benefit may be that you’ve come away with an understanding that this is an attorney who’s thoughtful and who’s prepared and who takes your claim seriously. Another benefit you might get is a much better understanding of what remedies might be available to you, and the risks and costs associated with them.
There’s always gonna be risk and cost associated with every case, and even if a case has a potential to fetch a large dollar value for you and for your attorney, there may be tremendous costs, emotionally, monetarily, and in talking about time, the cost of time, some of these cases take years to resolve as well.
So, I wouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction against paying a consultation fee, and I would just understand that if you’re not paying that consultation fee, you’re very likely going through a screening system for a firm that has done everything that they can to have as minimal exposure to the cases that are not good as possible, and that may not be necessarily a process that’s built to help you understand your rights and to give you counsel.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think if it were my sister in North Carolina calling, I would say, “Pay for an hour,” you know, even if they don’t suggest a paid consult. You know, pay for an hour of the attorney’s time to come in and sit down because, you know, I think these employment law situations, how you handle it, whether you decide to hire an attorney or to negotiate or to just walk away, which is sometimes the best thing to do, you’re gonna remember it for the rest of your life. So, why not invest some in yourself, and again, I would say this to my sister where I have no pecuniary interest in it.
I know a lot of times you hear it coming from the attorney and they’re like, “Yeah, of course, you might have to pay a consult fee.” But I think, you know, as you mentioned, Jacob, I would want that attorney to have cleared out the hour, to not be, you know, just sifting my case to see whether it’s a strong one. I mean, that’s all just part of what happens, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not all I want. I would want my sister to be able to tell her entire story and to get the entire, as much as you can in an hour, roadmap for what it might look going forward. So, if it were me, I would prefer to pay for the fee.
Jacob: One thing that’s really important to mention here is that if you don’t have a claim that necessarily has a monetary value, that might mean that an attorney can’t help you, can’t just say, “Oh, here’s a good claim, let me take it.” They may require you to pay, but there may be some tremendous things that they can do for you to have to improve your situation. And similarly, if you don’t have any claim at all, and you’re operating under the perception that you do, acquiring the understanding that any funds that you expend in that claim, and any time and emotional energy that you put into it will likely be lost, is a very valuable thing.
And it may be a bitter thing to walk away from a consultation with an attorney having heard that, “No, you don’t have a claim. I’m sorry.” But if you actually learn from that attorney why you don’t necessarily have a claim, and why the law forecloses your ability to get any relief, especially any monetary relief, and if that information helps you decide not to spend any more time, money, or emotional energy on that case, well, that is a really valuable thing to walk away from.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely agree because, as you know, I mean even in a contingency fee arrangement where you’re not paying until there’s a recovery, it’s still gonna take a tremendous amount of your time. It’s still…it can be emotionally exhausting. There are other costs and, you know, it’s all well and good to say, “Well, if you lose, you’re not out any money.” It still can have costs in other ways. So, you know, I know that some people are strapped and are watching their money, as well they should, but I think it generally is money well spent, you know, as you say, to find out what your claims are worth, to find out what the law can and can’t do for you.
And I will tell you, I’m sure you have these experiences too, I mean, we have people who came in for the consult, which we do charge for, and they’ll walk out and they’re happy. I mean, we’ve told them that they don’t have a claim or we’ve advised them, you know, that maybe not worth investing. And just the fact that they know, they are relieved. They’re like, “Okay, thanks, now I know.” And I think that’s a gratifying thing, and to understand that that’s something that you can get out of the process.
And I know it sounds like we’re trying to talk people into paying a fee, and I’m not necessarily doing that. There are all kinds of ways to try to get at least the lay of the land without paying, and that’s as you do on your website, and we do on ours. We’ve put lots of information out there for people to access for no cost because people should be able to get as much information as they can for free. But I think there’s tremendous value that a lot of people overlook in thinking about paying a consult. So, I agree with all your points.
Jacob: Yeah, and you should just keep in mind that no attorney out there is making their living on consult fees. Those of us who are doing this kind of work, we’re looking for folks that we can help, and it may just be that in order to do that in a conscientious and a thoughtful way, and in order to help folks, we have to charge a consultation fee. I agree with you, Tom. You should not necessarily let that put out off. You should understand that as an investment in understanding whether what has happened to you is illegal.
And one of the things that you might not necessarily think about is that even if you have a case, even if you have a good one, how do you come to a full understanding of the risk profile of that case? And until you’re able to do that, and you’re really not in a position to make decisions about what you wanna do because your case really should be about you, not the attorney.
Tom: Right, well said. I can’t put it any better than that. Well, I don’t have anything else unless you do. Anything…any other final thoughts?
Jacob: No, Tom. I thank you so much for inviting me on the show and hope to come back on again soon.
Tom: Absolutely. I appreciate your time with you, Jacob, and have a good weekend, and take care.
Jacob: You too.
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