Posted on Saturday, April 25, 2009
Unfortunately most people begin looking for lawyer at a time when they are under pressure and stress from whatever the circumstance is that has lead them to need a lawyer in the first place. That given there are often unusual time pressures to find someone and emotional influences that make rational decision making a but more difficult than usual. For this reason, before making a final decision, bringing a friend or family member in on the decision may be a good idea.
Just like in medicine, there are general attorneys (similar to family practice or primary care physicians) who perform a wide range of different legal services. Then there are attorneys who act more as specialists in different areas of the law. You are most likely to find these general lawyers practice on their own or with a very small group of other lawyers. For some types of legal cases, these sole practicing or small law firm general practice lawyers are likely to provide you with decent service at a fairly reasonable price in comparison to larger more specialized firms or lawyers who either need to recover more overhead or can charge more because of the higher level of experience, expertise or reputation which makes more clients desire hiring them
So how do you find the right attorney for your case? An attorney experienced and previously successful with cases in that area of the law, with a reputation for excellent ethics and who will care about and communicate well with you and achieve the best outcome for you possible for a fair price that you can afford?
Start with personal references. As with hiring any other important service provider, ask the people you trust (remember to be careful who you trust) for a reference. Friends, relatives, clergy, or other acquaintances whose judgment you respect may have had a relationship with a lawyer in the field you need and be able to provide you with a personal reference. Use this reference as one source, NOT the end all.
If no one you know knows an attorney in the area you need, just ask if they know a good attorney in any area. Then call and ask those other attorneys you may know or get referred to if THEY know of a good attorney in the area that you need. One of the best ways to find out the lawyers who have the best reputation for a particular type of law is to consult other lawyers in the same community or lawyers you may meet a different community who practices in the same area of law. But again, use this as one source, NOT the end all!
Martindale Hubbell – Is a directory of attorneys who rank other attorneys. The oldest and best known directory of its type, this service provides peer ratings for lawyers for legal skills:
“a” (very high to preeminent)
“b” (high to very high)
“c” (good to high);
For ethics: “v” for very good.
Be aware that there are many very reputable attorneys who chose to not rated by Martindale Hubbell. And sometimes attorneys in Martindale Hubbell are not all they are cracked up to be. The service is a business with the goal of making money. Keep that in mind and again don’t use this as the only source.
Try to stay away from other lawyer referral websites and services as they too are merely businesses and often are paid to list an attorney as opposed to merely listing and referring an attorney because he or she is truly the best.
Most State Bar Associations have specialty certifications. Consumers can easily check out the website or call the Bar for a list of lawyers who have been certified in the area of expertise needed. The certification normally requires an attorney to have practiced is that are of the law for some time and to have studied for and passed an often difficult test in that area of expertise. Maintaining the certification usually required attended a vast amount of continuing legal education classes in the area of specialty each year. Many lawyers will only hire an attorney certified in the are of need for their own personal legal matters so this is an important resource to know. But again be aware that certified lawyers may charge more (and justifiably so) because of the large amount of experience, extra education and work they go thru to become certified, they are truly “experts” in heir particular field. If you select an attorney who is not certified in the are you need you might want to ask him or her why. There are many reasons, some good and some not so good.
If you can’t get any referrals any other way, advertisements or the Yellow Pages is an OK place to start as an absolute last repost but you will need to be especially careful then in interviewing the people you call that way. The Yellow Pages are paid advertising. The bigger ads mean nothing other than that the lawyer has paid more for it. Ignore the hype and look for facts confirming experience you can call upon.
While choosing a lawyer that you like and whop seems to be compassionate and understanding is important, be aware of not choosing someone only for this reason as it may lead to later dissatisfaction.
Lawyers should be selected for their expertise and experience in specific categories of cases. The "right lawyer" is the person who has substantial experience handling a case very similar to yours, who can and will take action at once. She or he does not have to "look into it," "think about it and call you back" or "check the most recent court decisions." The "right lawyer" knows what to do immediately, acts effectively and with little wasted effort or wasted expenditures of your money.
One good sign is a lawyer who has written, lectured or taught extensively on the subject you need. Ask the lawyers you speak with if they have.
Your search for the "right lawyer" should be expected to take several days. Although it is a challenging process, this commitment will yield important rewards. Begin as soon as possible because you may have only a limited window of opportunity to take legal action.
And dedicate as much time as is needed to make the right decision. Remember, if you were forced to bet your home on the outcome of an athletic event between two players in boxing, tennis or golf, you would do a substantial amount of homework. You would do a literature search, call coaches, talk with players, call Las Vegas to learn what the professionals had to say, and find videotape on film of previous matches. The same approach applies when it comes to finding the "right lawyer."
For many people "cold calling" lawyers is not easy, but you may gain valuable information if you contact some of the local legal community's leaders. The local bar directory contains the names of current and former bar presidents, the heads of bar association committees, and editors of legal publications. It will also give the names of the directors of continuing legal education programs or CLE as it is commonly known. Attorneys must attend a specific number of hours of continuing legal education each year to keep current their license to practice under the rules of many state supreme courts or state bar associations. Those lawyers who organize these educational programs are excellent contacts who can refer you to attorneys who have expertise in your line of work. The best lawyers in fields unrelated to your problem know who they would hire. Birds of a feather not only flock together, but they read legal decisions, legal newspapers, know the current county scuttlebutt, and chat with their colleagues. When they need help, they know who to call. Keep in mind that some people will refer their friends so no matter how you find an attorney, always ask him your own questions and make your own decision.
If you have access to computerized data bases and your local newspaper is online, run a newspaper search of the people on your short list. Prominent lawyers who have taken on challenging and difficult cases are regularly mentioned in newspapers. More and more newspapers are on-line these days. through
Do not expect to find the "right lawyer" by calling a local bar association. These are voluntary organizations designed to serve the needs of attorneys and they do not wish to alienate any of their members.
There is no substitute for a face to face meeting when you are trying to select an attorney. You will not only learn whether a lawyer has the necessary expertise, but also whether you could form a comfortable working relationship with him or her.
Call each attorney on your "short list" to see who would be available to be interviewed about taking on your case, and what the fee schedule would be for this meeting. Some law firms provide clients with a brochure, press clippings, or a curriculum vitae, which details a lawyer's education, achievements, and experience. Ask for any information available on the lawyer or your subject matter, and review it carefully. This is the time for comparison shopping. Read for substance and compare the background and work experience of one lawyer with another before you call for an appointment. When you call for the appointment, describe your problem in twenty words. At your meeting you should give a clear summary of your situation and the services you are seeking. It is helpful to bring a one page summary of all the relevant information, including dates, times, names and addresses and which provides basic "who, what, where, when, why and how" information.. Come prepared with documents that help tell your story.
When talking with a lawyer pretend you are talking with your auto mechanic and ask the same types of questions:
How bad is it?
How soon do I have to do something?
Have you done this before?
What are my options?
What are the odds of getting it fixed?
At what price?
When will it be done?
Who is going to do the work?
When can you get started?
Discuss what kind of additional information or investigation would be appropriate and whom the lawyer recommends.
An experienced lawyer's record should speak for itself. Check the results this attorney has obtained for clients who needed the same kind of services. Learn if he or she generally works with a certain category of individuals or businesses, since specialization is to your advantage. Ask a trial attorney how many cases like yours she or he has both tried, won, lost or settled. Do not be afraid to ask for a copy of a trial brief, settlement conference, or pre-trial statement that was filed with the court so better acquaint yourself with the type and quality of the attorney's work.
Many attorneys will work with other lawyers, their partners and employees who are called "associates" on your case It is important to know what their qualifications are, check what their level of involvement would be, and whether the person you are interviewing would be the lead attorney or decision-maker on your case. Find out who will be working on your case on a day-to-day basis. Ask to meet the legal staff, if they have not been introduced to you. Remember that when you are in a hospital you see the doctor usually once a day, but it is the nursing staff that provides hourly care. The same is true in the law office. Lawyers perform direct services, but they also give instructions and orders to others. Find out who those people are and what they do.
You should ask what course of action the lawyer suggests in your case, and be wary of an answer that contains lots of assurances but lacks concrete steps and a range of time the tasks would require. STAY AWAY FROM ANYONE WHO GUARANTEES RESULTS. Determine what procedures will be followed to make sure all time deadlines will be met in your case. Many cases require the testimony of an expert, who is a specialist in a given field, many times a university professor, medical doctor, economist, accountant, or scientist. You should ask whether your case would be assisted by an expert, what kind of expert should be considered, which experts your attorney recommends, and when they should be retained. How much will they charge and who pays is discussed below.
Keep in mind that if you are going to litigate, your attorney will have to tell your story to a judge and a jury. You should try to imagine what kind of impression the attorney would make on them, and how convincingly he or she would present the facts of your case.
As a routine practice, determine how you and the attorney would resolve how your case should proceed. Does his attorney want to make all the decisions or does she or he enjoy shared decision-making? If there is a disagreement, are they open to second opinions and what happens if you do not get along. How would a change of counsel be accomplished? You should determine whether the attorney carries adequate professional liability insurance for a case like yours. In addition, ask if he or she has ever been sued for malpractice, how many times and more importantly the outcome. No professional should be offended if you explain that you are bringing up these unlikely possibilities as a matter of policy.
After your interview, take time to consider whether you would be comfortable in working with this person as your lawyer. Ask yourself whether or not she or he gave you clear and direct information. Will they be available in an emergency? Consider if the attorney spoke knowledgeably and with a minimum of legal terms. Think about whether this lawyer understood and shared your goals. As a client will you be a co-participant or will the lawyer be making all the decisions? Did the attorney give you his/her home phone number if you have an emergency?