Much like an accountant or a contractor, you should approach choosing an attorney wisely. Not only will you be sharing confidential information with this person, but you will also be entrusting them to offer you proper legal advice and guide you through a situation you wouldn’t otherwise be able to navigate on your own.
From qualifications and cost, to the area of law and location, there are several aspects to turn over in your mind before selecting the attorney that is best for you and your legal situation.
Here are 10 factors you should think about when searching for a lawyer:
1. Long or short term?
Before you begin looking online, or asking colleagues, friends, or family for referrals, you need to address your own needs first. Why do you need an attorney? Do you have a legal problem that you cannot solve on your own? If so, would a professional be able to help?
After you have identified you do need legal assistance, figure out whether you need a lawyer short term or long term. This will depend on the work you would like done. For instance, do you need an attorney to provide advice on a current legal situation? This may only require a short term hire or a consultation. Oppositely, if you are looking for someone to handle all your legal affairs indefinitely, then you may require a long term attorney who you can call on when you need them.
2. Area of law
Lawyers tend to specialize in certain areas of law, as it is a very large field of study, similar to medicine. Some cover real estate law, while others pursue business, family, intellectual property, immigration, employment, accident/injury, bankruptcy, criminal, or civil rights law.
Attorneys can also be open to a wide range of situations, in which case they are referred to as general practice attorneys. Smaller communities see more general practitioners because there is limited legal help in the area.
However, if your situation is specific to your business, then you may want to choose someone who has experience in corporate law. Alternatively, if you need help settling a loved one’s estate, an estate planning lawyer would be the best fit.
3. Are they highly regarded?
When you hire someone to perform a service, or offer their expertise, you want to ensure that they know what they are talking about. To do this, you may need to ask for referrals from those who have worked with them before, or seek out referral services online who can pair you with a lawyer suited to your needs or who has been certified in their state. The American Bar Association is a good place to start.
Personal recommendations or connections can also be valuable, such as friends or family who have worked with a specific attorney.
Laws vary by state. For this reason, as well as the convenience of proximity, focus your search on someone in your area who is familiar with the region’s legal requirements. This cuts down the pain of travel, as well as demonstrates their knowledge of laws that affect where you live. If you happen to live in a rural area with limited resources, you can use other methods of contact, such as phone, or email to discuss your problems, if minor. With larger legal matters, or for long term counsel, it’s important to find someone close to you so that you can develop a trusted, face-to-face relationship.
In addition to someone with a specialization in the area of law you require, choose an attorney with experience in similar cases or circumstances to your own. You can find out information about their practicing history by simply asking them, or checking out their firm’s website (if they have one). An attorney with more experience may be more valuable, but only if their experience matches your situation, as well as your budget.
To find out more about an attorney’s past history, you may be able to conduct an interview with them to see if they are qualified to take on your case. Asking questions will give you insight into the type of experience they have, if they communicate well, and most of all, if they can help you.
6. Size of firm
The size of the law firm can affect your decision in a few ways. Larger firms tend to be more established, have greater resources, but can also be more costly.
Smaller firms may be more personalized and perhaps less expensive, but may also be limited in their services if they don’t specialize in the area of law that you desire.
7. Cost and billing
Ultimately, cost will be a factor when narrowing down your options and settling on an attorney. How much you are willing to spend is up to you. You can gather more information beforehand by asking the lawyer for a quote, as well as how they bill their clients. It could be an hourly fee, a flat rate, a contingency fee, a negotiable fee, or possibly even a retainer for future fees.
Find out if the fee includes expenses, (such as shipping, filing, travel, etc.), because these costs are not always treated the same and could be billed separately.
If you are not satisfied with the quote or the cost does not suit your budget, shop around and ask the same questions.
When you do settle on a firm or a lawyer, always makes sure the cost terms are clear, and don’t be afraid to talk about price so there are no surprises. You may even wish to confirm all the costs in a written agreement.
While there are many things to consider when choosing a lawyer, their personal character also factors into your decision. Find one that is trustworthy, and someone who you feel comfortable and compatible with. Since you will be in a working relationship, it’s only natural you would want someone you like and have confidence in to guide you through complicated matters. Mutual respect is also important in that they respect your wishes, while you respect their expertise. A lawyer who will work hard for you, exercise good judgment, and be thorough and thoughtful in the process, is a valuable asset.
Does the lawyer you want to hire have enough time to dedicate to your case? What is their case load like? Can they take on your case immediately? These are important questions to ask if you plan on being in contact with the attorney often, or you would like your situation to be given genuine attention. If they appear to be overworked, consider looking for someone else who has the time to attend to your needs.
Communication goes hand in hand with compatibility and availability. Often, between paperwork and meetings, there can be a tendency to fall out of touch. Try to establish proactive communication at the beginning. Mention your preferred form of communication and discuss your hours so you are both on the same page. This will prevent missed meetings or phone calls. Agree on regular check-in times to discuss updates and ask questions.
Explaining legal concepts also falls into the category of communication. A good attorney should take the time to explain complicated matters, provide you with plain English advice on your situation, and present you with an array of options or solutions to mull over before deciding on a plan of action, if needed.
Selecting the Right Attorney for You
Choosing an attorney may take time, and you might not always find one that you click with immediately. A quality attorney will be worth the recruiting effort, even if it means researching and interviewing several before you decide on one.
Most importantly, finding a lawyer that fits your needs, your budget, and your welfare, is going to give you peace of mind because you will trust that they are looking out for your best interests.
What do you think is the most important factor when selecting an attorney?