Why Can’t I Get a Lawyer to Take My Case?

Why Can’t I Get a Lawyer to Take My Case?

Why Can’t I Get a Lawyer to Take My Case?

At Bordas & Bordas, where I've been a lawyer for going on fifteen years now, we hear about a lot of legal cases. Because of the reputation Jim and Linda Bordas have built up for decades, we get the privilege of hearing about hundreds and even thousands of different potential legal cases from people who feel they've been wronged. And I mean it when I say "privilege." It isn't easy for anyone to talk about what may be one of the worst things that has happened to them in their lives. But that is how most every case begins.

Still, of the many folks who get in touch, only a small percentage of those cases get "taken." And while we do our best to explain our thinking to each person we talk to, we don't get to talk to everyone. I often meet people who once they find out I'm a lawyer, immediately want to tell me about the case they had that no lawyer would take. If you've ever been in that spot: this one's for you.

Reason #1: There's no such thing as your case. This is by far the most common situation. Every week, for example, we get calls from people who feel they are treated unfairly by a boss. Not because of race or religion or in some sexual way, but just "my boss is not fair," "she plays favorites" or even "he fired me because he doesn't like me, or for something I didn't do." All of these things are hurtful, upsetting, and can truly mess up your life, but they are not against the law in most places. The "employment-at-will" doctrine means that employees without benefit of a union or a contract can be fired at any time for good reason or no reason. Only when a person is fired for a specific bad reason, like a discriminatory racial, religious or sexual reason, or in violation of some public policy, is that a case.

Reason #2: There is such a thing as your case, but the case can't pay its way. This happens a lot too. Most ordinary people cannot afford to pay lawyers by the hour. They use the "contingency fee system" that allows them to pay with a portion of the money that is recovered if their case is won. We get calls about shoving matches and fistfights and people who feel they were slandered by a person they know who talked about them behind their back. In those situations, there may well be a case, but because there's rarely insurance backing up bar brawlers or town gossips, the case will end up costing more in time, effort, and money than can ever be squeezed out of the wrongdoer to pay for it. Other situations exist where a wrong is done, but there is not enough provable (see # 3, below) harm to make the process worth going through. This can also happen sometimes because damages are "capped," preventing people with just claims from getting compensation by a specific law targeting them.

Reason #3: Not enough proof. No matter what you hear, every legal case requires PROOF. In fact, many types of lawsuits cannot even be filed anymore unless yousecurity camera.jpg submit proof in advance that the case has merit. Even the ones that get past that point rarely get to trial without the judge being required to specifically decide that there is enough proof to show the plaintiff has a just claim (juries are not told that the judge has made this finding though). So we talk to folks in great detail about how each part of their case will be proved. In some situations, after careful investigation, we find out that no matter how strongly we believe something has happened, we don't have the proof the law requires. Sometimes even we don't know, and we hire experts in engineering, or nursing, or mining, only to find out a seemingly good case can't be proven. And that is tough to take, but so is losing, so we have to level with people about that from time to time.

Bonus Reason: I once got a call from a man who wanted to sue the police for malicious prosecution. He said he had been accused of, um, pleasuring himself, in a public place. Since one of the elements of malicious prosecution is "termination of the case in your favor," I asked him this:

"When were you acquitted of the public indecency charge, sir?"

"Oh, I wasn't acquitted, I was convicted," he tells me.

Not a good start. I thought maybe there was a false witness, who could potentially be a defendant, so I asked him who the witness was. He said this:

"No witness, there was just a videotape they showed the jury of the whole thing."

I have to admit the case felt like a loser at this point, but I wanted to be thorough, so I asked:

"Where was the video shot from?" I asked, and he said,

"The security camera outside the ladies' dressing room at JC Penney."

So, sometimes, you can't get a lawyer because . . . your case stinks. I tried to find a polite way to tell the gentleman that he had gotten about all he would from the law under the circumstances, that he should quit while he was behind, and sent him on his way.*

One thing Jim and Linda Bordas stressed to me from day one of my training is that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. Most of the cases aren't like that last one, of course, but arise because someone truly feels they've been made a victim without good cause. It's very difficult to turn down anyone who asks us for help. We are all very grateful to get the chance to talk to each person who contacts us, and we'll continue to tell each person what we think of their case for free, even if we can't take every case that comes our way.

*The attorneys at Bordas & Bordas value your privacy. Some details of this potential case have been changed to protect the, er, guilty.

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