Believe it or not, I get asked this exactly question by prospective clients. “I want the best. Are you the best lawyer around?” You’d think that after 15 years of doing this I would have an answer ready for any question thrown my way. For some reason, this question always gives me pause. The legal profession is not a baseball season. You can’t look in the Tampa Bay Times Sports Section to see where your lawyer ranks in the standings. How can any lawyer answer that question? “Well I’m currently in third place, but I’m hoping for a wild card spot. You know, once you get in the playoffs anything can happen!” Eh, no. It doesn’t work that way. The question about who might be the BEST lawyer out there is actually irrelevant (on top of being impossible to determine).
The question you should be asking is “who is the right lawyer for my situation?” Every lawyer has their particular set of skills, training, and experience. There are so many specialties and subspecialties in the law, particularly bankruptcy law, that the “best” lawyer for you will almost certainly be different than the “best” lawyer for someone else seeking legal help.
Everyone likes recognition for what they do. I was flattered when well respected foreclosure attorney, Matt Weidner, wrote an article calling me “The BEST Bankruptcy Lawyer in St. Petersburg.” Hey, it’s a pretty nice thing to have said about you, right? The truth is, it’s an absurd thing to say. Just yesterday, a potential client came in for a free consultation. We spoke in detail about this person’s business and about how Chapter 11 restructuring of his corporate debt might greatly benefit his company. This potential client and I got along very well. He trusted me and I really wanted to see him get the help and counsel that he needed. At the very end of our meeting I handed him Marshall Reissman’s business card. Marshall is a colleague of mine just down the street from me. He has more experience in that particular area, and I felt that the client would be better served with Marshall than me. In that situation, I didn’t believe that I was the best lawyer for my client. The client’s best interests should always come before that of the lawyer. In many cases, I believe that I am the best attorney to help a potential client. In this instance, I was not.
So the question then becomes, “how do I find the best bankruptcy lawyer FOR ME?” Well for starters, you need to avoid bad lawyers. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them about. But from there you want to look at a few different factors when picking the right lawyer for you. There some quick and easy steps you can take to get your research started. First, find out how long a particular lawyer has been practicing. While this will not always point you in the right direction (there are many bad lawyers that have been around a long time), there is no substitute for experience. Find someone that has been practicing bankruptcy law for more than a handful of years. Also, speak to other lawyers. People in the legal profession usually have a good idea about who to avoid and who does right by their clients. Finally, be wary of fancy advertising. A lawyer with an aggressive marketing campaign is not necessarily a bad lawyer, but in all of my years of practicing, I have yet to see a correlation between a good advertisement and a good lawyer. One has nothing to do with the other. At Berkowitz & Myer, the bulk of our business comes from referrals from other lawyers. This means that we are reliant on our reputation. I’d love to be able to say that we are always the best attorneys to help you with your particular situation, and many times I believe that we are, but the truth is that sometimes we are not. While no lawyer can guarantee you a particular result, I can promise you that if you come to me for a bankruptcy consultation, I will put you in the hands of who I believe the best bankruptcy lawyer to help you, even if it isn’t me.