What kind of lawyer do I need? And can someone recommend one in NYC?
May 13, 2022 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Let's say, hypothetically, that some time ago I complained to [government agency] about [private business]. [Government agency] used my complaint as a piece of evidence in a case they have filed against [private business]. I just received a message from [expensive lawyers] representing [private business] asking to have an "informal chat" and also suggesting that they intend to subpoena me to testify in the case. I would like to talk to a lawyer about my options here. However, I do not know what kind of lawyer I should be looking to speak with.

I would appreciate advice on what kind of lawyer I should be looking for ("a lawyer to talk to other lawyers on my behalf?"), and bonus points if you can refer me to a particular lawyer in NYC.

Just to note: I have spoken to my contact at [government agency] who says she is not my lawyer so probably won't be able to answer my questions. I have not spoken to [expensive lawyers]. I have spoken to two friends who are lawyers who have recommended that I ignore them unless I am subpoenaed, and to talk to a lawyer; however, neither of them were able to recommend someone or even a "type" of lawyer for me to contact since they work in very different fields.

Sorry to be so non-specific here, but I see that [expensive lawyers] have been searching me on LinkedIn and that creeps me out so I don't want to dox myself. I am happy to provide specifics via private message if that will help!

The word "lawyer" has now lost all meaning.
posted by sparkling to Law & Government (14 answers total)
 
Response by poster: Just to note also that I have never hired a lawyer before, so please feel free to explain this to me like I am very stupid.
posted by sparkling at 4:06 PM on May 13


I would think the type of lawyer you want is going to depend on the nature of the lawsuit and the business. In this case I’d recommend you call the NYC Bar referral service. That would let you confidentially discuss the problem with someone and get some advice about the type of lawyer you want even if you don’t use the referral.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:12 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Because it involves a complaint against the business, I would think a consumer protection attorney could be helpful. Also maybe someone with regulatory experience given the involvement of the government agency.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:25 PM on May 13


In Massachusetts I would have recommended someone like this or this (people I know personally who have handled stuff like this). Looking at those two pages I think you might be looking for civil litigators with government investigations experience.
posted by john hadron collider at 4:32 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I'd also be looking for someone with an impressive resume but crappy website, at a small firm with a few lawyers or a solo practice, for a mix of offputting reputation and affordability. But I haven't had to hire lawyers myself really.
posted by john hadron collider at 4:45 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Best answer: So, it's true that [government contact] isn't your lawyer and can't give you legal advice, but I'm surprised she didn't at least tell you that, short of subpoena or other legal process, you have no obligation to talk to [expensive lawyers]. Here is some practical information that is not legal advice: what they are trying to do is pick off all the individuals named in a (legal) complaint (the document that formally initiates a case) or otherwise disclosed to them as having made a (regular) complaint about the [company], which the [agency] usually does have to do upon [expensive lawyers'] request once the case is started. They want to try to undermine your story and/or intimidate you so you don't want to be involved should the government want to put you on as a witness. It's a semi-sleazy tactic and you will get no benefit whatsoever from talking to them.

I'm hesitant to recommend a lawyer because I don't think you should have to spend your own money on this. [Expensive lawyers] called everybody on a list. It is unlikely (though not impossible) that they will ever attempt to compel your testimony, either at deposition or at trial. If they do, then while [agency lawyer] won't represent you, they will prep you and will be present during the deposition or (of course) at trial. [Expensive lawyers] aren't really interested in you, they're just trying to undermine the state's case generally.

I'm assuming here that you yourself didn't do anything wrong, of course.
posted by praemunire at 4:51 PM on May 13 [29 favorites]


So, IANAL, but I am a litigation legal assistant. Basically that means that I haven’t gone to law school and am not qualified to give legal advice, but that my daily in-and-out job has involved helping out lawyers with litigation legal cases.

First, hope it’s clear that ExpensiveLawyers aren’t your friends. My friendly layman non-lawyer advice is to not cooperate in an “informal chat” and to wait for them to subpoena you. You do not want to help out lawyers who represent people who are hostile to your interest.

To answer your question: lawyers, as you’ve guessed, have areas of practice. As an example, there’s corporate, there’s intellectual property, there’s labor & employment, there’s estate planning. Lawyers don’t have to be in just one specialty, but generally there’s one that they focus or do really well on.

To me it sounds like what the area of practice for this is ‘litigation.’ If there is a subspecialty you might want to look for keywords involving ‘whistleblower protection’; even though you’re not necessarily a whistleblower I think this sounds fairly close enough to that scenario.

I think you’re going to want to find a litigation lawyer. Not because necessarily this matter will proceed to litigation, but because you probably want all the help you can to prevent it from going to litigation. Not to scare you, but you want to make sure you are properly coached in how to present your testimony in a way that is truthful but minimizes the chance that ExpensiveLawyers can try to redirect blame your way or cast doubt on the help you provided.

Most lawyers have to do a certain number of pro bono (free) hours each year for people in need – in New York it looks like it’s 50 hrs/year. I don’t know if this would qualify – the fact that you describe this as providing testimony to a government agency seems like it’d be worth a shot. I’d second people directing you to the New York City Bar (nycbar.org).

The other side is going to try to get you to go on a lot, or to get you to admit things they want you to admit. Your lawyers will help protect you from that.

Once upon a time I gave a deposition. The advice I was given that I remember, and that seemed to work well: you want to completely turn off the part of your brain that engages with human beings in a normal human-being-type way. You want to channel a cold ice-like facade. You want to let the exact text of the question sink in (and you can always ask for it to be repeated if you need to consider it), and then answer literally the question that was asked with ONLY the information that answers it. The ‘bit’ that stuck with me – the correct answer to “do you know the time?” in a deposition is not “2:30 pm”, it’s “yes.”

(This advice again is only layman’s advice, is not legal advice, and should you retain anyone you should follow their advice above all.)
posted by MollyRealized at 5:08 PM on May 13 [13 favorites]


Just wanted to second praemunire’s comprehensive response. In my view the comment is factually accurate and provides excellent practical advice for dealing with an annoying situation.
posted by lumpy at 5:16 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


I second what MollyRealized says. You get *nothing* from an informal chat. What’s in it for you? Maybe they’ll subpoena you, maybe not, but at least you’d get a witness fee. IAAL but IANYL.
posted by kerf at 12:03 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Best answer: In general, any litigator should be able to represent you in responding to a subpoena if it comes to that. Ideally you'd have someone who specializes in whatever area of law it is, so it'd be helpful to know which government agency it is; for example an EEOC matter is going to be different from an SEC matter. I'll send you a memail and plug my own firm, since we do this all the time.

Just a practical note: even though you don't currently have any obligation, if it were me I'd still talk to a lawyer now. The initial chat(s) with the lawyer will be free; if you are served with a subpoena, then you can formally retain them and they'll be ready to go. Once you're served with the subpoena, you'll have a deadline by which to comply (sometimes as short as a couple weeks if they're jerks), which will likely include producing documents in addition to appearing for a deposition. If you wait until you're served to start looking, then you're eating up some of that time lawyer-shopping. It's not the end of the world (and it's possible to get an extension), but it's always better to have some breathing room.

Maybe you don't even need to retain your own lawyer, as praemunire suggests, but it's hard to know that without knowing the specifics.
posted by leeloo minai at 7:22 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Once you're served with the subpoena, you'll have a deadline by which to comply (sometimes as short as a couple weeks if they're jerks), which will likely include producing documents in addition to appearing for a deposition.

The deadline specified in the subpoena will be short, but the agency lawyer will negotiate a more reasonable time frame. NY courts are fairly solicitous of third-party witnesses, especially ordinary consumers, and defendants' counsel know that.

Unless the stakes are unusually high, I really can't recommend someone who merely filed a complaint with a state or local agency retaining a lawyer for a third-party depo. There's no way the costs won't run into the low thousands. If you lost $200K in a bad investment and complained to Investor Protection, okay, fair. But an ordinary consumer complaint--supplements that didn't work, a bank charging you inappropriate fees? It would just be an absurd burden on OP. It is quite uncommon to see third-party witness lawyers at depos in these kinds of actions. I mean, if you have the money to burn and it will give you peace of mind, it won't hurt. But it will be expensive peace of mind.
posted by praemunire at 9:30 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for your very helpful and comprehensive answers, especially praemunire for the background on what is possibly going on here.

Just want to confirm to everyone that I will not be talking to [expensive lawyers] unless I have to! I may have never been involved in a lawsuit, but I have been in a union, so "do not talk to lawyers that are not there to help you" is a concept I am familiar with.

My contact at [government agency] did tell me I didn't have to talk to them unless I have been subpoenaed, I'm sorry that didn't make it into the original question.

To provide a bit of additional context, the complaint I made was indeed an ordinary consumer complaint about a relatively small amount of money, but to a federal government agency. I am in NYC; I am admittedly a bit confused about where exactly the court case is taking place. I am not sure if this changes anything about the advice given.

I haven't done anything wrong and am not really worried about that . I just have ADHD and a bad memory and the thought of being interrogated in detail about a thing that happened 4 years ago by lawyers that are hostile to my interests provokes a lot of anxiety and really freaks me out.
posted by sparkling at 12:15 PM on May 14


Given ADHD, a bad memory, and anxiety:

If your hypothetical complaint to [gov't agency] was in letter or email form, check that you have copies of it saved in a few places.
If you called [agency/helpline], type up your memory of that conversation and save your notes in a few places.
Keep similar notes (date/time/content) for your talks with your [agency] contact now.
Consider contacting the moderators to anonymize this question.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:45 PM on May 14


Two small points to add.

1. A document called a "subpoena" has no effect unless it has been issued properly. An Ohio subpoena has no effect in New York, for example. The party wishing to issue it must apply to a New York court, which takes time and effort (=money).

2. The best way to get a recommendation for a lawyer is from another lawyer.
posted by yclipse at 9:03 AM on May 15


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