When a sign language interpreter needs an attorney, do we know what to look for? Carla Mathers highlights the top five guidelines for selecting the right legal counsel.
One thing sign language interpreters should know when selecting an attorney is that one size generally does not fit all. There are many misconceptions about attorneys. The generic attitude that a good attorney is something akin to a pit bull is problematic for a number of reasons that I will discuss in this post. In addition, I have several tips for identifying the kinds of attorneys that sign language interpreters might need. If you recall, we already discussed a number of legal issues that affect sign language interpreters as independent business people in How Practicing Sign Language Interpreters Protect Against Legal Liability.
TIP #1: Why do You Need an Attorney
Try this. At a dinner party, ask the attorney sitting next to you what they think about the FCC regulations on sign language interpreters working from home, the recent Supreme Court decision distinguishing interpretation from translation, or even something mundane like the HIPAA Business Associate Contract that sign language interpreters must complete to work at a hospital and watch their eyes glaze over and begin the disclaimer: ‘I don’t practice that kind of law.’
Specific Legal Need
The law is very broad. Most lawyers are subject matter specialists in one or only a few areas and in a specific geographical region. The specific legal need will drive the type of attorney that a sign language interpreter needs to consider. Have you been sued or are contemplating suing someone? Have you been charged with a crime? Are you contemplating divorce or adoption? Are you interested in an attorney who will assist you in reviewing and negotiating contracts? Are you in need of an attorney to assist you in setting up a limited liability company (“LLC”)? Are you interested in providing services in other states and need to know the requirements for foreign corporations to do business in those states? If the sign language interpreter is seeking counsel to set up an LLC, she should not then look for a criminal defense attorney.
Locate an Attorney
Once the legal need is determined, then the search can be narrowed. I recommend using Martindale Hubble. Martindale is primarily used by attorneys to locate other attorneys for referrals or to assess opposing counsel; however, the public can search for attorneys by location and practice area. In addition, Martindale employs a peer rating system to give the user a general idea of the quality of the attorney. When you have identified an attorney, for example, to set up the sign language interpreter’s LLC, then call and ask for an initial conference or telephone interview. Most attorneys will sit down with prospective clients for a half hour or so without charge.
TIP #2: Win-loss Records Don’t Apply
In speaking with the attorney, you should get an idea of their expertise by asking the right questions. Do not ask ‘what is your win-loss record’ because there is no such thing. The fact is that 99 percent of all cases are resolved without a trial whether it by way of an agreed upon settlement or a guilty plea in the criminal context. A guilty plea is always a win for the government, but it also may represent a very good outcome for the defendant. A civil settlement is an agreement by the parties to forego litigation in return for each giving up something and each getting something they want. In the end, no one ‘won’ yet the result may be completely satisfactory to both sides.
The Right Questions
Ask the attorney, Have you set up LLCs in the past? How many? When was the last time? Have you ever set up an LLC for an individual service provider? What other types of companies have you set up? Have you ever taken continuing legal education courses in establishing LLCs? Have you assisted small businesses in navigating the state licensing and regulatory arenas? If your attorney has only set up one or two LLCs and it has been a number of years since then, it might not be the best fit. The law changes regularly and it is important to maintain current awareness of the changes. If the attorney’s awareness is not current, again it might not be the best fit.
TIP #3: Don’t Expect Your Lawyer to be Your CPA
Sign language interpreters, as small business owners, need competent tax advice. There are taxation implications in most areas of the law such as opening a business, writing a will, and getting divorced. Most general practitioners can give general advice on the tax code for those areas in which they specialize. However, for more in depth treatment, the wise sign language interpreter should seek advice from a specialist in taxation.
TIP #4: If You Want a Pit Bull, go to the SPCA
If you are being sued, say for violating the provisions of a non-compete clause in a state where those are valid, you need a litigator. Many clients think that an aggressive lawyer is a competent lawyer: nothing could be further from the truth. Litigators who fight, delay and who ‘papers the other side’ with motions are simply running up your bill.
After nearly 20 years litigating, I can confidently state that an aggressive lawyer is simply an expensive lawyer.
A good litigator is a good communicator, one who can develop a rapport not only with the client but also with opposing counsel in order to facilitate a reasonable resolution to the issue. Trust and a good rapport with the client is critical so that the client understands the reason why costly legal research and motions practice needs to be undertaken and when it needs to be taken.
TIP #5: The Attorney Client Relationship Should be Like a Good Marriage
The attorney client relationship should be built on trust not fear or resentment. The sign language interpreter should interview enough lawyers and select someone who also fits their personality type. For sign language interpreters, the relationship typically will be ongoing (assuming you do not get sued often) and it will be based on specific transactions such as setting up the initial corporate structure, reviewing contracts, negotiating terms in your behalf, and possibly assisting with licensing and regulatory issues. In sum, the sign language interpreter should enter the relationship knowing why an attorney is necessary, knowing the questions to ask to determine if the attorney is a good fit, and knowing the specific practice and geographical areas in which the attorney is competent.
When interviewing to identify the attorney that will serve you best, remember one size doesn’t fit all. Engage specific attorneys for specific situations. Ask the right questions. Attorneys aren’t CPA’s, unless they are. An aggressive lawyer is an expensive lawyer. Trust and rapport building skills are core competencies you need. Always make sure you and your attorney are a good fit.
As always, this post is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Access to this post does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the user or browser.