The Truth About Lawyers: 10 Myths Debunked

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If you’re facing criminal charges or have been wronged by an insurance company, you may know you need a lawyer, yet be reluctant to contact one. There is lots of misinformation that makes people hesitant to seek legal help. You may think a lawyer will take advantage of your situation, but in reality, the corporations and insurance companies are more likely to do that. In my practice, at least, I help people fight for the justice they deserve. I want to set the record straight about lawyers, because most are hardworking, ethical people. Here are 10 myths about lawyers, followed by a more accurate picture of what we do.

1. Myth: All lawyers are rich

Only a small percent of lawyers are extremely wealthy, and they generally work for very large corporations or very wealthy clients. The average lawyer salary in the U.S. is $114,300. In Portland, the median salary for an attorney is $85,000. However, an attorney’s salary can range from less than $55,000 on the low end to more than $190,000 on the high end. Your location and specialty will affect your salary. As a personal injury, criminal defense, and DUI lawyer, my chief motivation is a desire to help my clients.

2. Myth: Hiring a lawyer is always expensive

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Lawyers aren’t only for the wealthy. You have rights no matter how much money you make. You may be eligible for subsidized legal aid if your income is below a certain amount, and some attorneys offer a sliding scale. Legal fees vary depending on the kind of case and the financial resources of the client. Some lawyers require an hourly rate, a flat fee, a retainer, or a contingency fee (a percent of your award). Personal injury lawyers typically work on contingency, so you only pay after your lawyer wins your case (typically 30% to 40%). Ask for a free consultation, and if cost is your main concern, make sure you ask how much they charge.

3. Myth: Lawyers are “ambulance-chasers”

Oregon has very strict rules about lawyers contacting injured people, and we take ethics regulations very seriously. We aren’t allowed to solicit an injured or vulnerable person in any way. We cannot go to hospitals or courts looking for potential clients. We even have to be extremely careful about referrals. If your friend Alissa gets in a car wreck, you mention Adam Greenman Law, and Alissa sounds interested, I legally cannot contact Alissa. She has to contact me.

4. Myth: The best trait a lawyer can have is being argumentative

Being confrontational is not the most important trait for lawyers. More important is being dedicated to learning the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the law, to investigating your client’s case, and to seeing the case through -- including going to court if necessary.

Certainly lawyers need to be eloquent and effective communicators. But many cases never make it to court. Most and maybe even all of my work will be doing research, interviewing witnesses and experts, and building your case. A dedicated, knowledgeable lawyer will serve you better than a disagreeable one.

5. Myth: Lawyers collude with police, judges, and the prosecution

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Many people think lawyers are dishonest and that we arrange secret deals with the prosecution. The truth is, we do work with prosecutors, judges, and police, but it’s in no one’s professional interest for those relationships to be underhanded. Plea bargaining may occur, but it is completely above-board. In fact, it may be best for your case, if you want it to be resolved quickly.

6. Myth: All lawyers are basically the same

Most attorneys work for businesses or insurance companies and are paid hourly. As a personal injury lawyer, my situation is different. Personal injury law involves more inherent risk, as your lawyer is only paid if you win your case. Your attorney may invest time and money on your case without being paid for years, whereas government attorneys and prosecutors, for instance, make the same salary whether they win or lose.

7. Myth: Lawyers are unnecessary

Some people think that because they only met with their lawyer two or three times, the lawyer is not working on their case. In reality, we contribute a lot of work and research behind the scenes. As one attorney puts it, “Trial lawyers spend most of their time in the discovery stage of litigation, reviewing pleadings, drafting and answering discovery requests and taking depositions.” I might only meet with you a few times, but I put in a lot of hours on your case that you don’t see.

8. Myth: A good lawyer will win every case

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Even the best lawyer cannot win every case. If an attorney makes that claim, it could mean they only accept cases that are easy to win. We can be smart, skilled, and dedicate many hours to your case, but still lose. I believe you deserve legal representation even if it will be an uphill battle against the medical industry or a powerful corporation. I cannot guarantee I will win your case, but I will do my absolute best to get you a fair and just outcome and not let anyone take advantage of you.

9. Myth: Public defenders are subpar

Public defenders work on behalf of people who can’t afford an attorney. Their clients do not pay them, but that does not reflect on the quality of their work. (One of the things taxes go toward is paying public defenders.) Some public defenders are excellent. In fact, some of the best attorneys I’ve ever met are public defenders. They’re extremely skilled and experienced in criminal defense, as it is their sole focus.

10. Myth: Lawyers bring many “frivolous” lawsuits

It is not in a lawyer’s best interests to bring a so-called “frivolous lawsuit,” as it is a waste of his or her time and money. The McDonald’s hot coffee case of the 1990s is often held up as proof of “frivolous lawsuits,” but what many people don’t know is that McDonald’s had knowingly been brewing coffee at a temperature that could cause a third-degree burn in as little as three seconds. In fact, hundreds of customers had tried to sue McDonald’s for burns like these, but McDonald’s had not warned customers nor lowered its coffee temperature, because the high temperature let them save money.

Further, a 12-person jury decided to award the plaintiff nearly $3 million. If the case were truly frivolous, why would the judge and jury rule in her favor? Wouldn’t a wealthy corporation like McDonald’s easily defeated the woman’s case if it had been truly baseless?

That’s the truth about “frivolous” lawsuits. They almost never happen because they don’t make sense. No personal injury lawyer wants to waste his or her time and money on a case that will get laughed out of the courtroom. Nobody has anything to gain from ridiculous lawsuits.

Did I dispel some myths about lawyers? I hope so. If you need an honest, hardworking Portland lawyer who will stand up for your rights, give me a call.