October 02, 2009 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
“Mr. Beaver, I work in the Clerk’s Office of the Kings County Superior Court in Hanford. While Hanford’s population isn’t large — we have excellent lawyers. Yet, those of us working in the Clerk’s Office are often asked the same question: Isn’t it true that if you want a good lawyer, then you have to go outside of town?”
Thus began an e-mail from Ima Noid Clerk whose name reveals something valuable for anyone working in a courthouse — a sense of humor. Her e-mail continued:
“Most people do not understand why it is important to have a lawyer who knows the other attorneys and judges in the area where they live, and few realize the added cost of having a lawyer from out of town. You can do a real public service by commenting on these issues. Thanks for your column. You do a lot to help the image of the legal profession!”
The myth of going out of town
Southern California-based certified family law specialist attorney Marshall Waller has written extensively on the “urban myth” about where the good lawyers are to be found.
“The myth goes along these lines: If you were a really good lawyer, you’d be in a real city — Los Angeles, Fresno, San Francisco, Beverly Hills — because that’s where wealthy people live and they only hire the best!
“The other aspect of the fallacy is that if you were a really good attorney, you would go where the money is, and therefore, a really good lawyer would not be in Hanford, Bakersfield or some other small town.
“The reality is, if you are good at what you do, clients will find you. There are many good lawyers and people with interesting cases everywhere. Some of the finest attorneys live in rural settings, because they want to avoid the hassle of big city life,” he pointed out.
Going out of town can hurt your case
In hiring an out-of-town lawyer, because you think only the best lawyers come from out of town, you can be “hometowned,” as Mr. Waller described:
“Judges are there to help discover the truth. Sometimes they have to go with their gut feelings, giving the benefit of the doubt to parties, witnesses or the lawyers who appear before them. So, just ask yourself, if you were the judge, who are you more inclined to believe, to trust — lawyers who you know from prior experience to be truthful or a complete stranger?
“It is human nature to trust someone who has proven to be trustworthy. When a judge is on the fence — trying to decide who to believe — it’s usually going to be the person who they trust from experience. And, remember, trust is formed over a long period of time.
“So the choice of hiring that unknown quantity can easily mean less effectiveness in court. That choice of an out-of-town, unknown lawyer could have a huge impact on the outcome of your case, and also greatly increase the cost involved,” he stressed.
“This is not prejudice or simply being closed minded; it is a matter of experience, trust and a level of comfort with those with whom you are familiar. Of course, judges work with out-of-area lawyers every day.
“Nonetheless I tell young lawyers the following: When I am in court here, in the area where I practice, judges and other lawyers know me, they know my reputation and know that I can be trusted. When you are from out of town, that is no longer a given, since you are a complete unknown and the risk is that you’ll be ‘hometowned,’ even if you have the stronger case,” he cautioned.
Family law is often crisis management
Another good reason to hire someone local for most legal matters — but especially family law — is because family lawyers are regularly in the “crisis management” business. We are confronted with crises all of the time.
With clients who are going through a divorce or custody conflict, we are faced with people who sometimes fail to act rationally, and who respond emotionally rather than by using reason and calm reflection. That’s where you need a lawyer who is accessible, right now. Waller agreed.
“Crises come up and have to be addressed. If you have an attorney who lives in the next county, it might not be feasible to address these issues as they come up.”
Next week a look at specific types of cases — automobile accidents, criminal, business, where going out of town unnecessarily can be the worst possible decision.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.