CHOOSING THE RIGHT LAWYER
The time has come, you have decided to hire a lawyer. Now what? First, you must determine which type of lawyer you will need. In many circumstances this will be self evident. For example, if you have been arrested for the commission of a crime, your search will begin with a criminal lawyer. Or, perhaps you have been injured by another party who you believe is primarily responsible. In this instance your first move would be to contact a personal injury lawyer. Other cases may be more complex and therefore the area of law that your issue may fall under is less obvious. In this scenario, when you are uncertain of which type of lawyer you may need, your best option is to ask a lawyer. If you have ever hired a lawyer to perform any type of legal service on your behalf, or consulted with a lawyer for any reason, you can start there. Most lawyers are equipped to easily identify your legal issue and refer you to another lawyer that either specializes or practices within the specific area of law related to your issue. If you have not hired or consulted with a lawyer in the past, ask a colleague, friend, or relative, chances are you know someone that has. In the event that you are still uncertain of which type of lawyer you may need, your next option is to contact a general practitioner. This is an attorney that practices several different areas of law but does not specialize in one particular area. A general practitioner can identify your legal needs and will refer you to a specialist if he is unable to assist you with your matter.
Once you have identified the type of lawyer you will need to represent you, your search begins. It is important to remember that making an informed decision in hiring your lawyer requires the same investigation and research you would conduct before purchasing any other product or service. Once you have obtained several referrals for lawyers that either specialize or practice within the area of law that your issue falls under, your research begins with the taking following 4 steps:
1. Schedule Candidate Consultations
The best indicators of a lawyer’s suitability for your particular matter can be gathered during an initial consultation. Most offer a free initial consultation to determine what your legal needs are, and whether the lawyer can accommodate them. Initial consultations are extremely advantageous for potential clients because a great deal of information and be gathered by both the prospective client and lawyer during the consultation (typically between 30 and 60 minutes), and the lawyer’s time is very affordable in this circumstance because after all, a free consultation is just that – free.
During your consultation with any potential candidate, there are a few questions you should always be prepared to pose:
How much experience does the lawyer have with the area of law related to your matter?
How long has the lawyer been licensed to practice law?
Does the lawyer specialize in the area of law related to your matter?
What percentage of the lawyers practice is dedicated to handling your type of legal issue?
Does the lawyer have any specialized training, skills, credentials, or certifications?
What are the lawyer’s fees and how are they calculated?
What additional costs may be involved in addition to lawyers’ fees (postage, filing fees, copy fees, etc.)?
Does the lawyer have trial experience? If so what is his experience.
How often does billing take place and what payment methods are accepted?
Does the lawyer or firm have social media and internet presence? If so, which outlets?
Is the lawyer capable of providing references from previous clients?
After consulting with any prospective candidate, you will want to be able to answer the following questions:
Does the lawyer appear organized?
Does the lawyer appear trustworthy?
Do you believe the lawyer would be reliable?
Do you believe the lawyer would be a capable and diligent advocate for your specific legal needs?
Did the lawyer provide adequate responses to your questions?
Is the lawyer’s demeanor and personality commensurate with somene you would enjoy working with?
Do the lawyer’s fees appear reasonable?
Your answers to these questions will help assist you in making an informed decision in ultimately selecting your lawyer.
2. Consult Internet Sources and Online Social Media Outlets
Technology can also play an important role in your search for the right lawyer. For instance, online sources and social media websites can also play an important role in any consumers quest for gathering information about a specific lawyer or firm. One of the first places to start is the Martindale-Hubbel Law Directory, which can be found on-line at Martindale.com and at your local public and law libraries. This directory is an excellent source for gathering information about specific lawyers or firms. The directory contains a wide array information regarding lawyers including lawyer biographies, and other legal services throughout the United States.
Another great online based source for gathering information about lawyers and law firms is Avvo. Avvo can be found online at avvo.com. Avvo has quickly become one of the leading internet sources for consumers that are looking for legal services or information. Avvo periodically collects background data for specific lawyers from several different sources, including state bar associations, court records, firm or lawyer websites, and information that lawyers elect to provide to Avvo. Based upon the information that Avvo collects, they assign the particular lawyer a rating. Although the rating is subjective and is not truly representative of the lawyers skill or ability, the lawyer’s profile listed on the Avvo site often allows potential clients to gather a great deal of information about a lawyer. The information a potential client is able to obtain is variable however, depending upon how active the lawyer is within the specific Avvo network.
Although the Martindale-Hubbel Law Directory and Avvo are specifically geared to lawyers and law firms, most lawyers and firms now also have a presence on many additional internet and social media sites such as, Facebook, Linkedin, Google +, Yelp, and Twitter. These sources should also be consulted when evaluating any potential candidate.
3. Confirm the Attorney is in Good Standing
One of the final steps in hiring an attorney is to consult the local state bar association to confirm that the lawyer is eligible to practice law and in good standing with your specific state’s bar association. For instance in California, all that is required to complete this task is visiting the State Bar of California’s website and performing a search with the attorney’s name. Here the user is provided with information that confirms whether the particular lawyer is eligible to practice and is in good standing. The user is also provided with information regarding administrative or disciplinary actions that may have been taken in the past. Most state bar association websites contain a similar search option.
If the lawyer has provided you with any references, you should consult them as well. You can also determine an attorney’s peer rating online at Martindale.com (discussed previously), although not all attorneys have been rated. Peer review ratings are objective indicators of an attorney’s professional skill and standing, and are generated by other attorneys.
4. Take an Office Tour
A good lawyer is also a good salesman. In talking to any potential candidate on the telephone you may get an impression of the lawyer that is not entirely accurate. He may appear well put together, organized, and successful. You must determine whether it is just a sales pitch, or reality. This is why the in person meeting and office tour are vitally important when searching for your potential legal representative. It enables any prospective client to answer several questions he may have about the lawyer instantly. If your first interaction with the attorney is on the telephone, request
to set up a brief tour of his office. Whether your first interaction is over the phone or in person, during your first visit to the attorney’s office, you will want to observe the following:
Is the office well kept and organized?
Does it appear equipped with necessary technologies and legal tools (telephones, computers, books, printers, fax, etc.)?
Is the support staff friendly and helpful?
Is the lawyer’s office easily accessible?
If you can answer each of these questions affirmatively, you are most likely off to a good start. However, if your answer to any one of these questions is no, proceed with caution.
By following these 4 steps, you will be equipped with the tools and information necessary to make a rational, informed decision in selecting your legal representative.