Protecting Our Reputations
Published to: 000113, 000115, 000116, 000117, A Small Town Lawyer's Perspective, Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer, West Virginia Lawyer - Tips and Techniques
on August 12, 2011 8:20 pm
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Just a short note of warning. Whether you are a high school cheerleader whose boyfriend takes “one of those pictures”, a business person who gets an angry customer, a Face Booker whose karaoke photo is unflattering, or a dentist, adoctor, or a prosecuting attorney, the web can turn on you.
The first time was funny for me. My friend told me her secretary had found me in a chat room. Someone asked for the best lawyer in town, and the responder told her to run, not walk, to Burt Hunter, “because he is the biggest SOB in the county!” Not my favorite compliment, but it was a recommendation of sorts.
But this next batch of reviews was different. I read in an obscure ratings site that I had six ratings. I was excited for an instant, until I saw the “unhappy face” and 1 rating. Not # 1; rather 1 out of five with one being the worst.
I learned that I had told a man to give up custody of his child, that I write terrible contracts, that I told an innocent man to plead guilty, that I charged one of my clients $20 for an e-mail promoting WV Irish Road Bowling, that I yell at clients for no reason (I have yelled at clients, but there is ALWAYS a reason.), that the posters were all going to report me to the WV State Bar, and that I did not deserve to keep my license. This was vicious stuff with no foundation in truth, but there it was.
The posts were from February through April 2010. We traced it to a disagreeable client who we had to fire, and sue!
For the record:
1. I do not do criminal cases; haven’t for ten years. The occasional domestic battery only has a guilty plea if the evidence is overwhelming. Sometimes a plea bargain is a lot better than long jail sentence. The client ALWAYS makes the final decision.
2. I do not write contracts, except my own fee agreements, and property settlement agreements and parenting plans in divorces. Those contracts have held up remarkably well if I do say so.
3. There is no “custody” any more (it is called “residential care” and “shared parenting”, and I NEVER tell the client to give up parenting rights. What I do is ascertain the facts, tell the client the law, and predict the outcome. The client decides what she or he will fight for. (This particular lie about me makes me VERY angry.) Please note that my first three Google Map reviews are from long time male clients who obtained full residential parenting rights of their daughters!
4. As for yelling at a client. I will yell, or speak clearly and firmly, if the client, as this one did, scared my staff and advised he would show up personally at my office every day until I “made” the other lawyer respond to my letters and calls. I will “yell” if her or she violates a domestic violence, or restraining order, and I will withdraw from a case where the client persistently disobeys the court or ignores my advice. My theory is that I cannot help such people, so I move on to people that I can help.
5. I kicked a guy out of my office once. He had put his wife in the hospital with his fist, but what we argued about was he had gone to the family residence and pulled out every single shrub from the front yard. When I questioned his judgment, he said, “Those are my f…k’ ng shrubs, and I will do what I damn well want to with them.” I promptly escorted him outside.
6. Then there was the client who demanded I tell his wife that if she asked for alimony, he would turn her in to the prosecuting attorney for signing his name to a credit card application. I politely explained that is the felony crime of extortion (Threatening criminal prosecution to get a civil benefit.) He persisted, so I withdrew. His complaint against me to the WV State Bar was dismissed.
7. In 38 years, I have never been sanctioned or disciplined or sued. Well, there was the fellow I decided to sue for my fee; he counter-sued for $700,000 (in magistrate court, jurisdiction $5000! He did not like the ruling that his mother’s time with the child did not count as his time, and that the court did not think his wife’s drinking problem was as big as he did. Clients occasionally become outraged at the rule and somehow blame the judge or the lawyer.
8. The Internet complainer, who got me started on this subject, finally said, “Burt Hunter lazy and disorganized”!! That did it! Even my worst adversaries do not accus me of that. As he no doubt would have liked, my hand shook, face turned red, and I sputtered. My wife threatened to go into the other room if I did not shut off the computer.
9. Because you see, even though I have a “lazy streak”, I fight it. I go to work by 7:00 a.m.. I work at least 10 hours each day. I leave too much here at home for my dear wife to do. I work Saturdays, and read, study, and learn a lot of the rest of them time. I attend 300% of the State Bars requirements for Continuing Legal Education, keep a staff of four, and sometimes five, breathing hard, and organize, organize, organize.
10. And, still, I make mistakes. I missed the word “without” in a property agreement this week. It could have had adverse ramifications for the client. The client caught is at the last moment. I thanked him and apologized. He accepted.
11. But am I the fellow in those ratings? Not even remotely. Does the author have the right to free speech. He sure does. He was the same bully in those posts as he was to his wife, (who caught him in an affair.)
The lesson I learned is know what is being said about you on the WEB. I will try harder to be polite, but some people cannot be satisfied, and some conflicts are nearly inevitable.
Some people are charming and gentle. Sometimes I am, but sometimes I am not. I am very gentle and considerate of people who come to me who are hurting. I have a folder of thank you notes that I cherish. Got one this week; from a client who lost after we filed five appeals!
The person who called me a “tough sob” was aware of one side of me, but not the real me. The real me gets up every day wanting to do the right thing, wanting to protect children, wanting to make a good living, wanting to be well thought of in my profession, and wanting to help people get a fresh start in life. I do not get up saying, “Who can I bully today.”
But, do not try to bully my client or me. That we do not take. If you find those posts, please consider both sides. I am not the easiest lawyer to have, but I will be loyal to you, so long as you can be loyal to yourself.
This post was written by Burton Hunter