How To Choose A Lawyer

Most of us (lawyers included) would rather avoid hiring an attorney, but when we must…

Key Considerations

Most lawyers have specialty areas of practice.

Very few legal matters are as simple as they seem on the surface.

No lawyer knows everything, many times they have to look it up.

Talk with more than one lawyer before you make a selection.

Find someone you are comfortable with who can explain things clearly so you completely understand.

Don’t hold back! Tell the lawyer your whole story; he or she can’t help without all the facts.

Never procrastinate on a legal matter, it will only get more expensive!

A Word of Caution

Be very skeptical about internet legal advice, particularly the online legal forms services. Read very carefully the fine print that says they are NOT lawyers, they only provide the forms, and if you get into trouble with them you are on your own. If a problem does arise with this “do it yourself” scheme you can rest assured the lawyer you have to hire to get you out of the mess is going to cost more than the one you could have hired to do it properly in the first place.

Most people have only limited contact with the legal system over the years and thus the public perception of lawyers is perhaps more influenced by television than by any reality. It is our purpose here to present a few ideas on what is to be expected when dealing with a lawyer and the key considerations one should evaluate in selecting a legal representative.

The practice of law is, by its nature, a complex and very technical enterprise. The precise language of legalese is necessary to avoid any ambiguity in or conflict between the elements of a legal question or procedure. For this reason what seems to the client a very simple matter or issue frequently turns out to be anything but.

In some cases, personal injury claims for example, a lawyer can be retained who will work on a contingency basis, taking his or her fees as a percentage of any award realized in your favor. With most matters, however, lawyers work on an hourly basis rather than quoting a flat fee for a particular service. At the outset it can be very difficult to ascertain accurately the scope and duration of work that will be required on your issue because new information or changing circumstances may substantially impact your situation in unforeseeable ways.

Many, but not all, lawyers will offer an initial interview at no cost to evaluate your problem and provide you the opportunity to consider the potential of their representation.

In most cases once you agree to employ a specific representative you can expect to pay, in advance, a retainer based on the estimated work required. This money is placed in a lawyer’s trust account and is only paid to the lawyer as services are rendered and billed.

With the foregoing in mind, how then to approach the task of finding an attorney with whom you are comfortable; one who can and will do the best job in your particular situation.

First, do some homework. When looking for professional help of any kind, nothing beats a personal reference, so talking with friends or acquaintances that have had experience with a particular practitioner is a good idea. And take advantage of the internet. Many attorneys will have their own web sites with details about themselves and their areas of practice. Also there are internet sites that list local area lawyers and also provide reviews written by some of their previous clients.

Once you have selected two or perhaps three candidates that seem appropriate for your needs, get on the phone and speak with the lawyer directly. If an attorney does not have the time to talk with you for a few moments on the phone to determine if he or she can help you, then ask yourself if they will have the time to do the best job for you later. Verify if the lawyer works with your type of issue, if there is any cost involved in an initial interview, and what the normal hourly rate is. If you feel positive about this brief conversation, schedule an interview.

The initial meeting is the most important step in the process. It is good to remember this interview is really a two way affair. You need to determine whether you believe this lawyer has the necessary skills to address your needs, and the attorney must assess your situation and decide if your case is one he or she has both the capacity and the necessary time to pursue.

Specifically you are looking for someone who can translate the legal gobbledygook into everyday English so you can clearly understand what can be done in your interest and what to expect during the process; someone who will listen carefully to your problem, examine any associated documents, and ask relevant questions.

It is important to remember that, even in their areas of specialization, lawyers don’t know everything; some research and consideration may likely be necessary to provide you the accurate and relevant answers you need to have.

It is most important that both you and your lawyer feel comfortable, one with the other. This cannot be overstated. It is possible you might become involved in a lengthy and difficult legal process where stress levels can run quite high and a good working relationship is going to be imperative. It is critical you be satisfied that this lawyer can communicate with you in lay terms that are clear and easy to understand; if you are not comfortable with this aspect of the interview you are well advised to consider other representation.

Based on this initial meeting, and perhaps a bit of research on the part of the lawyer, he or she should provide you a memorandum indicating a basic understanding of your issues, a suggested course of action and a good faith estimate of what the costs involved will include and are to be expected. Keep in mind this is only an estimate. As stated above, changing circumstances or new information can have a significant impact on costs.