Whether you are drafting a will or a trust, buying or selling real estate or getting a divorce, it is important to select the best attorney possible. Read on to find out what tips you can use to make sure that you are picking the right lawyer for you. They often have asymmetric information compared to you, as they are experts with a specific skillset.
Where to Look
In addition to the phone book, internet search, and a friend that might recommend a lawyer, there are several other sources for finding a qualified attorney. Some unions offer representation as does the AARP (sometimes at a discount to its members). In addition, members of the military are often entitled to certain representation, as are certain individuals covered by umbrella and home insurance policies. Finally, the American Bar Association can also help you find a suitable attorney that is licensed in your state.
Retain an Honest Lawyer
Many attorneys offer an initial consultation free of charge. Take advantage of this. Use the meeting to determine whether the attorney is honest and forthcoming. Instinctively, some people have the ability to determine an individual's character within a few minutes of interacting with the person; however, there are a few personality traits that can also tip you off.
For example, is the lawyer looking you in the eye when speaking with you, or are they looking at the ground? Also, ask what kind of cases have they litigated in the past. If you are looking for a settlement, they should be able to give you award amounts for cases similar to yours.
If a lawyer sounds unusually optimistic and doesn't tell you any of the risks or downplays the costs associated with the case, that is a red flag.
Prior to entering into any official relationship, it is important to feel secure in the knowledge that your lawyer is an honest individual. It would be equally disturbing to find out that the attorney representing you is hurting your case because of their questionable reputation. Reviews matter.
They Must be Thorough
The initial meeting or conversation with the attorney can also help you to determine whether they are oriented and will be responsive to your needs. Be sure to ask the attorney if it's OK to call them throughout the case to discuss any concerns you may have. If they balk at the idea, it may indicate that you'll have trouble relaying your thoughts and obtaining answers to your questions once the case is up and running.
Other questions that should be asked include:
- Will I be given periodic updates on the status of the case in writing or by phone?
- Will the attorney be the main point of contact, or will communications be delegated to a paralegal?
There is nothing worse than having an attorney who won't respond to your inquiries or hear your concerns. To that end, be sure to retain an attorney who is communicative.
Find a Lawyer in Your Price Range
Finding the right attorney for you means finding one whose services you can afford. With that in mind, all individuals should inquire about costs at the outset of the initial meeting.
Try to obtain an estimate of what the case will cost to litigate in writing. Then, again in writing, try to secure a contract that will spell out the maximum costs associated with trying your case. This will prevent any unwanted surprises.
If you are working on a percentage base, some lawyers will negotiate with you prior to signing an agreement. A little wiggle room shows they are savvy. However, too much and they appear desperate, and may not believe in their abilities.
Seek Those With Experience
While it is important to have an attorney that you can trust, it is equally important that they have extensive experience in the area of law for which you require their services.
For example, you should use an attorney with estate planning experience to draft your will, a divorce attorney to draft divorce papers and a trial lawyer to defend you in a criminal case. General practitioners are good for basic real estate transactions, or other non-complex matter, but their lack of detailed knowledge and experience in a given field can hurt your case.
Consider the Size of the Firm
There are advantages to hiring a lawyer from a small firm. In most cases, you receive personalized, prompt attention. In addition, the lawyer representing you will probably have a fairly large amount of time to dedicate to your case. This may not be the situation at large firms, where attorneys must often juggle numerous cases and may have many responsibilities to the firm and its partners that could draw their attention away from your needs.
However, large firms also have advantages. After all, many judges and opposing attorneys respect and/or fear large reputable firms for the cases they've won, and their ability to influence judgments. Large firms also typically have greater resources in terms of money and staffing to research your case and to craft strategy.