Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Choose a Lemon Law Lawyer--And What Questions to Ask

Last week I explained what paperwork you need to gather up before you see your attorney.  Now that you've done all that, it's time to make an appointment to see the lawyer.  How do you decide what lawyer to see?  That's the subject of today's post.

Experience counts.  One of the most important factors to consider is whether the attorney in question has significant experience in Lemon Law cases.  Believe it or not, this is actually a specialized area, with a lot of what the law calls "traps for the unwary".  A lawyer who has never handled a Lemon Law case, or not very many of them, is at a definite disadvantage.  First, he may not be able to give you a realistic assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case.  (I'm going to use "he" instead of "he or she" for simplicity's sake.)  This is bad for two entirely different reasons.  He may overestimate your case and get you involved in a claim, or even a lawsuit, that you aren't going to win.  On the other hand, he may tell you don't have a case when you actually do.  Second,  he may not know to ask for all the money you are entitled to get back.  Third, he won't be known to the manufacturers and their attorneys.  This is a small legal community, and the folks on the manufacturer's side know the experienced Lemon Law attorneys, and will try to take advantage of the ones who aren't.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--Experience.  First, how many years have you been in practice?  If you're not comfortable with this type of question, look them up on the California State Bar website, or on Avvo.  The Avvo site will also tell you how much of their practice they devote to Lemon Law, which is another question you should ask.  Another important question, that only the lawyer can answer for you, is, "How many Lemon Law cases have you taken to trial?"  They should at least have tried one, and at least have won one.   Keep in mind that most Lemon Law cases settle, so most attorneys have not tried very many of these cases, and usually it's the more difficult cases that get tried so a low success rate isn't necessarily a bad sign.  If the attorney has never tried a Lemon Law case then that is a bad sign, however.  Not only does he need to know how to try a Lemon Law case, but the other side needs to know that he does.  This makes it more likely that he will be able to settle the case.

Once you've chosen an attorney to see, there are questions you will want to ask at the first meeting.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--How Much Will I Get Back?  The basic concept of the Lemon Law is that the manufacturer buys back your car or truck.  However, there are a number of factors that go into this calculation.  Ask the lawyer to give you an estimate of what you will get back.  In some cases, pursuing a Lemon Law case does not make good economic sense for you.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--What are the Fees and Costs?  California's Lemon Law provides that the manufacturer has to pay the fees and costs, that's one of the great things about this law.  Because of this, your lawyer typically does not ask for you to pay any of the fees or costs.  Also, the fees are typically based on an hourly rate, and not a percentage of what you get paid back.  A different arrangement is usually made for what is called "civil penalty" amounts.  This is like punitive damages, but is limited a maximum of two times your damages.  Most Lemon Law attorneys take a share of this bonus money in addition to their hourly rate, since it is bonus money, and not easy to get.  Make sure to get this explained to you.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--How Much Time Will this Take?  This is actually a very difficult question, and there's not usually any really reliable answer, because you never know what the other side is going to do.  However, the attorney should be able to tell you how long it is going to take him to send your demand letter out, or to file suit, depending upon his approach.  After that, as I say, the timetable is unpredictable.  Once you find out how long it is going to take the lawyer to take his first actions, you will be better prepared.  Yes, "these things take time" is what lawyers typically say, because, unfortunately, it's true.  However, if the lawyer is too busy to get to your case within a reasonable time, you may want to find somebody else.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--Who's Going to be Handling My Case?  The attorney you meet may not be the one actually handling your case.  You are entitled to know who is going to be representing you, and how to get in touch with them to find out what is going on.  It's not uncommon in larger firms for more than one attorney to be working on a given case, but you should be told who is "in charge" of the case.

What Do I Do if I'm Unhappy?  Let's assume you like all the answers you get to these questions, and hire the attorney.  What happens if, later on, you feel that you aren't getting the service you deserve?  Go talk to the lawyer!  You are always entitled to talk to the attorney representing you--they're working for you.  I suggest an in-person meeting because that gets the best results.  Telephone calls and, particularly e-mail, don't always convey what you are trying to get across and can give the impression that you are being unreasonable.  Go see the lawyer, tell him what your concerns are, and see if you are satisfied with the answers.  More often that not, this is all it takes because there has simply been a miscommunication.  If this doesn't solve the problem, you are always free to find another attorney to represent you.

There you are!  You've taken all the right steps to get the best results in your Lemon Law case.  Best of luck!  

In my next posting, I'll be talking about a new Lemon Law topic, so be sure to check back.  In the meantime, be sure to take a look at my website:

See you next time!

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn

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