Jay Hait
American Israeli Family Law Attorney

Is Your Lawyer Your Biggest Obstacle?

photo - pexels-анна-рыжкова

Sometimes your lawyer can be the answer to your prayers when he or she has the experience, skill, and expertise required to get you out of your problematic situation. Other times, your lawyer can be a disaster. Rather than coming to your rescue, he or she can be the biggest obstacle to a good resolution of your problem. Worse than that – you may not even know it.

You aren’t a combative type of person. You don’t regularly sue people. You’ve only been involved with the legal system a few times in your life. Or not at all.

And then something happens. Maybe you’ve been in a car accident. Or your spouse has sued you for divorce. You get arrested because of a complaint made against you. Maybe somebody sues you for something you said or did (even if it wasn’t intentional). 

And all of a sudden you find yourself thrust into the world of lawsuits, court dates, mediation, lawyers, hearings, judges, legal complaints, rulings, legal motions, and more.

The attorney

Most legal problems call for professional help. So, you find an attorney who you assume will represent your best interests. And usually, he or she will do just that. A good attorney will carefully advise you and represent you diligently. He or she will keep you informed of the strengths and weaknesses in your case and those of the other side.

But what if your lawyer is your biggest obstacle to getting an acceptable solution to your legal problem? That’s exactly what can happen when their interests and yours are not aligned.

Trust 

I was involved in a perfect example of this. (Details have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.) I represented a relatively well-known public figure in Israel, in the Anglo community. My client had brought suit against someone who wronged her. She wasn’t looking for financial compensation. She merely wanted to correct the injustice done to her. The man she was suing didn’t know Hebrew very well and was very limited, financially. 

The case had already dragged on for a year so I had ample opportunity to watch the exchanges between the defendant and his lawyer. And I was convinced that the lawyer was participating in this case in order to “ride the coattails” of my client’s prominent name. It seemed to me that he was the biggest obstacle to an outcome in the best interests of his own client.

Damaging representation 

I observed quite a few things to support my claim.

  • The defendant didn’t have the financial means to bring and/or respond to the multiple lawsuits involved in this case.
  • Even though he was my age, the attorney representing the other side did not yet have an established practice. 
  • Multiple times, the other attorney sought to remove the gag order in this case. He even violated the order himself by presenting pleadings to a national newspaper. Both the newspaper and the attorney’s motions to lift the gag order had failed.
  • The defendant did not speak Hebrew. He didn’t understand what was going on around him during hearings and mediation meetings. His attorney always acted as his translator. I closely observed the reactions of the client when his attorney spoke to him and it appeared to me that he was not getting accurate translations.
  • Multiple good suggestions for ending the case had been made by a number of judges and mediators, all of which the other attorney rejected. These suggestions would have (subjectively) met his client’s needs.

It was my suspicion that the attorney mistranslated and misconstrued details of the case when translating for his client. And I sincerely believed he was making bad recommendations. 

The other attorney didn’t speak or think in terms of “my client.” He always addressed the court in terms of “we” and “our”. I believed he so over-identified with his client that he couldn’t differentiate between a good strong legal position, what the client really needed, and what he himself personally wanted.

I concluded that the other attorney’s motivation for accepting the case was his desire to represent a client who was going up against a prominent person. He wanted his name and picture in the newspaper solely to further his own career  – and his client’s interest be damned if settling the case didn’t fit in with his goal.

Treating people with dignity

Unfortunately, I believe this kind of treatment is an outgrowth of a systematic lack of respect people have for each other in general, particularly here in Israel. It is unacceptable for a client participating in a court proceeding not to understand what is going on. And it’s disrespectful for him to be referred to in the third person by his own attorney, during mediation, while he’s sitting right there.

Making sure someone understands what is happening to them is treating them with the dignity they deserve. This is why whenever I have court appearances or meetings with my Anglo clients, I provide three options:

  • We order a translator
  • I translate for my client myself. (Which is also why I usually have another one of my attorneys present during court hearings so we don’t miss any important details)
  • I request that we do things in English. (Most courts won’t do this, however most mediations and settlement conferences can be conducted in English).

In any case all of my suspicions about the other attorney’s motives were confirmed during one of our last attempts to settle the case.

The lawyer’s intentions exposed

The other attorney told us that “they”  (affirming my theory that he was over identifying with his client) were the plaintiffs and not my client. And so, he asked, “How much are you willing to pay to end this?”

I responded that since my client was the one who had brought suit for damages, his client would have to pay in order to settle. And in keeping with my client’s wishes the settlement amount would only be one shekel and his client would have to enter into a consent order not to repeat his actions.

The lawyer responded, “Well, then at least pay my legal costs. I’ve been at this case pro-bono for a couple of years and it has been a lot of work”.

We refused of course – but asked how much he would have requested. His answer was a couple of hundred thousand shekels. Not money for his client. Money for him. Only then would he recommend that his client settle and end everything. Let the client’s interests be damned.

It’s not a leap to conclude that the attorney knew his client should have settled long before this. But then he would be left without the exposure he thought he’d get when he took the case. And he would have to absorb the enormous cost for all the time he invested in trying to cash in on my client’s prominence.

Higher standards

It is morally reprehensible for an attorney to  run a case based on what is good for himself over what is best for his client. One must demand excellent service from any attorney they are considering hiring.

A great resolution of the case may include either moving forward with litigation or settling out of court. And sometimes the cost will be higher than expected. But when you know your attorney truly represents your best interests it’s a price you’re prepared to pay.

If you have any questions about legal representation, please feel free to contact Jay Hait directly  Israel 077 200-8162  U.S. 201 696-3947  jay.hait@orcheidin.co.il   or visit https://jayhaitlaw.com/

About the Author
Soon after returning to Israel with his family fom a 14 year hiatus in the US, American born and bred attorney Jay Hait went through a vicious divorce exposing him to the dark side of family law in Israel. When it was all over and he came out with custody over his young children, Jay switched from corporate to family law because he knew that there had to be a better way -even within the confines of the Israeli legal system.
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