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Competent counsel: working with lawyers.

Competent Counsel: Working with Lawyers.

Competent Counsel: Working with Lawyers. Denise Shekerjian. Dodd Mead, $15.95. Nobody likes lawers. Lawyers don't like each other. The Chief Justice decries rampant incompetence, while the profession seems to return the compliment. Lawyers are avaricious and corrupt. They are arrogant, pedantic, and boring, and there are too damned many of them.

The legal profession has undoubtedly brought much of this on itself. Part of this animosity, however, is probably inherent in the relationship between lawyer and client. People go to lawyers when they are in trouble, or are comtemplating a risk, or are mad enough to sue or have been sued. The lawyer can be a complex and contradictory ally for people in extremis. Like the Oedipal father, the lawyer may be powerful, but his sword can be turned back on the client at any time.

Denise Shekerjian's Competent Counsel is a handbook for dealing with these ambivalent allies. Although a lawyer herself, she, like most lawyers, is skeptical of, if not downright hostile to her peers. The book simply and directly explains how to decide whether a lawyer is necessary, how to find a lawyer, how to comparison shop and negotiate, how to haggle over bills, and how to dismiss, sue, or discipline your lawyer should things go badly.

Competent Counsel's utility for the average individual consumer of legal services is diminished by its excessive focus on whom Shekerjian terms "Mr. Mighty from Ivy League U' and his native habitat, the large law firm. She recites the litany against blue-chip firms: the opulent offices, the overstaffing of cases, the gold-plated summer programs, the staggering bills. These charges are not without merit, but they seem irrelevant to the purpose of her work.

Big firm legal services are marketed to large corporate entities and a few wealthy individuals. Armed with ample bargaining power and a general counsel's office, often staffed with alumni of these firms, Fortune 500 clients don't need Shekerjian's practical guide. The market for which her book is useful--individuals with smaller problems--employs different types of lawyers. Her book would have profited from focus on these individuals, the types of services they require, and the particular problems presented by lawyers who work in these areas. For an individual charged with a crime or seeking a divorce, a lawyer can cause far more harm than an expense account dinner at Lutece.
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Author:Lewis, Eric
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1985
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