It is a fact of legal practice that clients may not always be satisfied with their counsel, and they may sometimes ask that another lawyer review the work performed by their attorneys. Usually, this is a friend or relative of the client who the client wishes to be involved in the matter since they trust this friend or relative more than a lawyer with whom the client merely has a professional relationship. Other times, clients ask that their attorneys speak with other counsel that they have hired either to step into the representation or just because the client wants a second set of eyes on a matter. Even though second opinions can be annoying, more lawyers should be open-minded when it comes to second opinions from other lawyers.
Earlier in my career, I was not a big fan of second opinions since I had bad experiences with this part of the legal profession. One time, years ago, I was handling a matter that was a little outside of my practice area. The client hired another lawyer to review the case, likely because the client was thinking about using a new attorney for the matter. It was annoying to turn over my files to this new lawyer and to answer questions about the representation.
When I reviewed the other lawyer’s notes, I was even more peeved about the comments that lawyer made. This other attorney had commented on things about my representation that had very little or no impact on the outcome of the case. For instance, the other lawyer noted that in my complaint, I had not cited the case that established a given cause of action and that I had merely described the appropriate doctrine. This made my blood boil since it is pretty rare to cite to case law in a complaint, and the other lawyer was just providing comments to make himself look useful.
However, I have also had solid experiences with lawyers providing second opinions more recently in my career. A while back, I was handling a relatively specialized matter for a client to whom I had provided general legal services for a few years. The case had reached a stalemate, and our adversary did not seem too motivated to resolve the case any time soon.
My client called me up one day and told me that he was speaking with another more specialized attorney to discuss this matter. I initially thought I would have a bad experience with the lawyer tasked with providing a second opinion, but the experience was much different than situations I went through in the past. This lawyer was extremely respectful and courteous, and it was clear that this attorney knew a lot about the relevant area of the law. The lawyer had practiced law for around five decades, and his experience definitely showed in the feedback he provided and the advice he conveyed to my client and me.
The second-opinion lawyer offered several suggestions, a few of which became part of our playbook for the litigation. This attorney ended up not being formally involved in our case due to time constraints, but it was definitely helpful to have this lawyer look at the file. There is an adage that two heads are better than one, and this was definitely true with this situation since the second-opinion lawyer and I fed off each other to formulate a better strategy for the client.
Clients should also be more open to second opinions about legal issues. In the medical field, it is common for patients to look for second opinion, and although legal decisions are rarely as critical as medical decisions, legal options should also be evaluated by more than one professional. Sometimes, clients do not have much of a choice about seeking a second opinion since they are more or less stuck with the lawyer they have. This commonly arises in the insurance defense context in which the insured agrees to accept counsel from the insurance company and might have limited choices in securing counsel.
In such instances, it might make sense to hire monitoring counsel to review the files of the insurance defense counsel and see how files are being managed. Of course, only deep-pocketed clients could afford this expense, but it might be worth it. When I was working at a firm years ago, we were hired as monitoring counsel for a relatively large client that had a large portfolio of insurance defense matters. The presence of monitoring counsel ensured that the client got solid attention from the insurance defense counsel and that the best strategies were pursued.
All told, no one likes to be judged by another professional, and it can be annoying to answer questions and furnish materials so a client can get a second opinion. However, attorneys and clients alike should be more open to second opinions so that lawyers can provide the best representation possible.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.