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Should I hire an aggressive attorney or an honest attorney?

Phil Photo New By Philip M. Snyder

Is an aggressive attorney always the best attorney for your case?

As a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense and personal injury attorney, I posed the following question to my friends and family, “(Assuming their credentials are identical) do you feel more confident hiring an aggressive, take no prisoners, “pit bull”, fight at every step attorney or an honest, intelligent, hard-working, trustworthy attorney?”   Although these two sets of characteristics are not always mutually exclusive, for this exercise I had my friends and family assume that the attorney they hired could only possess one of the two character sets. Their answers surprised me.

My non-lawyer friends and family overwhelming chose to hire an aggressive attorney over an honest / intelligent attorney.    When I narrowed the type of attorney to a family law / divorce attorney or personal injury attorney, 100% chose the aggressive attorney.   My hypothesis … clients become emotionally attached to their case whether it is a criminal matter, divorce, accident, etc.  As such they want the perception of a “pit-bull” fighting for them and making the other side (whether it is the police, the insurance company, the ex-wife, etc.) suffer for putting them through this ordeal.

Conversely, my lawyer friends and family overwhelming chose to recommend that their clients hire an honest / intelligent attorney over an aggressive attorney.  Why … other lawyers know that reasonable attorneys (provided they are confident and intelligent) typically obtain better results than aggressive attorneys.    Attorneys (especially family law and criminal law) run in small circles and they practice exclusively in front of a small number of judges.  Difficult criminal defense attorneys quickly obtain a bad reputation with the State Attorney’s Office.    Attorneys who fight at every turn (even if they know they are wrong) lose credibility.   Without credibility an attorney will always fail – regardless of their personality.

Which begs the question …who are better attorneys; aggressive attorneys or honest attorneys?

First off, it depends on the type of attorney you are seeking to hire.

In cases that do not involve litigation such as real estate law or business law, you should always select a confident, hard working and intelligent attorney over an aggressive attorney.

In cases that involve litigation such as criminal defense, family law and personal injury, your attorney must be confident in his or her abilities and comfortable in a courtroom.  Please do not mistake confident and comfortable in a courtroom for aggressive, however.   Everyone client wants their attorney to fight for them – but not all fighters are overly aggressive.  The best attorneys carefully pick their battles, like a surgeon.

A well-liked and well-spoken attorney, no matter how aggressive or non-aggressive, will typically receive a better resolution with the judge, jury, opposing counsel then an unlikeable attorney.   In my experience, aggressive attorneys who make unreasonable requests and are unwavering with their demands do not achieve the best results as no one wants to “play nice” with someone who is unnecessarily difficult.  Also, although just a stereotype, aggressive attorneys can frequently be lazy and unresponsive with their clients as to further strengthen their inflated persona that their time is more valuable than everyone else.

The bottom line: push-over attorneys who want to quickly resolve matters should never be retained, especially in cases involving litigation.  Attorneys who are “afraid” to fight for their clients should also be avoided at any costs.  That being said, honesty and trustworthiness are almost always better character traits than aggressiveness when hiring an attorney.

Before hiring an attorney (and blindly believing their assertions regarding how great they are), check their online reviews, research their credentials (AV rated, National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial Lawyer, Legal Elite, Board Certified, former State Attorney or Public Defender, etc.) and discuss their most recent results.   At that point, and only at that point, can you make an educated decision as to whether you should hire an aggressive attorney over an intelligent attorney.