Finding yourself in the situation where you need to find a lemon law lawyer is never ideal. In fact, needing any kind of legal assistance is something most people prefer to avoid altogether.
As a consumer, buying a defective vehicle (a lemon) is not exactly a normal occurrence (hopefully). When you need justice from the manufacturer, the lawyer you hire has the biggest impact on how the case turns out.
Generally speaking, the typical relationship surrounding any legal case involves the client having a very surface level knowledge of how the particular law works, and the lawyer having all the answers. Unfortunately, finding right lawyer with particular legal knowledge is not as easy at it may seem. Being as how most consumers faced with a lemon are likely dealing with it for the first time, “separating the wheat from the chaff” is of the utmost importance.
Here are four blaring signs that the lemon lawyer your are interviewing may be more chaff than wheat (and you should look for legal assistance elsewhere).
1. They Do Not Promote Lemon Law Services
If you go to a general practice lawyer asking about lemon law, they might try to tell you they can take care of your case no problem. This is something you need to be very, VERY careful about.
The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, aka California’s lemon law is an interesting aspect of the legal system. The general situation revolves around an everyday consumer or small business owner trying to get justice from the large automakers. As you could imagine, the auto manufacturers are very well equipped with legal defense and endless resources. Therefore, most cases take the form of a David vs. Goliath story, in which general practice lawyers (David) have little experience with lemon law claims or the standard lemon law defense attorneys. Truth be told, inexperienced lemon attorneys usually get blindsided by the high-powered legal teams representing the big manufacturers. Chances are, you’ll end up with a small cash settlement, as opposed to a full buyback – which is NOT what you want.
So, you need to have a specialized lemon law lawyer in your corner who is well-versed in the legal landscape. Keep in mind, the lemon law changes from state-to-state. The firm you choose to represent you should be local, and advertise lemon law services specifically.
2. They Tell You a Consultation Isn’t Necessary
This is perhaps the biggest red flag to watch out for when working with a lemon law lawyer. In most cases, a good lemon attorney will not take your case unless they are fairly certain you have a legitimate “lemon.”
When you are in the process of filing a lemon law case, the consultation is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. During this session, the lawyer will review the evidence you have, lay out your scenario, learn the next steps, and determine whether or not you have a viable case. If they take your lemon law case without a consultation, chances are they are simply trying to get clients and are not overly concerned with you getting justice. Again, this can result in an unfair cash settlement in which you get burned by the manufacturer.
3. You Rarely Have Direct Communication with Them After the Initial Meeting
When choosing a lawyer, regardless of their area of expertise, one of the most important aspects of the entire process is you have a healthy amount of direct access. Even if your case is assigned to an associate with the firm, it is important to be able to speak with the managing partner or owner. Sometimes, consumers may never have a consultation with the actual owner or managing partner, only to have all, or most, of the conversations be with assistants. This normally means that the firm is taking on as many cases as they possibly can and judge success purely based on the volume of clients. Once again, going with this attorney’s office can potentially result in a small cash settlement.
In the client-attorney relationship, communication is everything. While it’s normal for most of the clerical work to be handled by assistants, most of the information about the case and how your situation applies to the law should come straight from the attorney. It never hurts to ask about the firm’s process for client communication in the initial meeting.
4. They Demand Contingent or Retainer Fees Upfront
Demanding out-of-pocket-costs early in the process is a huge sign that a lemon law lawyer is trying to take advantage of you. Now, to reference my previous point, a quality attorney won’t take your lemon law case unless they think they you have a viable case. Keep in mind, prevailing in a lemon law case means that the manufacturer must pay ALL legal costs and fees.
That being said, if the attorney believes they can win the case, they know these expenses will be covered and won’t demand them from you. Moreover, a trustworthy lemon law lawyer knows that this situation is in no way the fault of the consumer - as one of the key components that defines a lemon is the vehicle’s defect must not be the result of user abuse. If the firm asks you to pay any contingent or retainer fees upfront, head for the door.
Brian K. Cline is the founding partner at Cline APC, A California Lemon Law Legal Group. His firm represents clients throughout California. Cline, APC is a Lemon Law Legal Group focusing its efforts on providing exceptional legal services to Los Angeles’ consumers. Our Los Angeles lemon law lawyers aggressively and ethically force vehicle manufacturers to buy back defective and dangerous vehicles.