How to Choose a Lawyer

By Lea Ann Fessenden-Joseph

Just because someone hangs a license on the wall to practice law, they may not necessarily be the right attorney for matters that apply to you. It is well worth your time to do some investigating and querying before you select a lawyer to represent your interests. Most attorneys value their reputations and will be honest about what they know and do not know. It is in their best interest to be up front with their clients because they most often rely on referrals for new business.

Ask friends, family and colleagues. A personal recommendation is the best place to start. Most people have had contact with attorneys at some point and if they haven’t, they will know someone who has. Try to find one who specializes in your particular area of concern by checking with your state bar and determine if they are in good standing with the bar. There are also numerous online resources to locate lawyers in your area that specialize.

Arrange a brief meeting with the attorneys that have been recommended or that you have selected as potential prospects. This will give you a pretty quick sense of how accessible this particular attorney will be in the future. Most attorneys will agree to a one time free consultation and this is your opportunity to ask the tough questions, request a list of previous clients as referrals and have the attorney cite some specific cases she has worked on that are similar to yours and the outcome of these cases.

Examine the attorney's background; both education and work experience, and study how they manage their practice. If an individual cannot manage their own business properly it is a sure sign that they will not be able to help you with yours.

Ask yourself a few important questions: is their office neat and well organized, does the attorney present himself well, are they open to questions and thorough in their answers, do they respond to emails and telephone calls within 24 to 48 hours? Do they cancel and reschedule appointments frequently at the last minute?

Research your local state bar’s website to find the average attorney’s hourly rate in your area or ask friends who have recently hired an attorney. Then compare credentials, accessibility, flexibility and personality to determine if what you are being charged is reasonable. Attorneys have set rates and fees so be cautious if an attorney wants to know what your budget is. Make sure the attorney puts her fees in writing and provides detailed billing.

Ask the potential attorney the following questions: do you require an up front retainer? What is your experience in this area of law? Have you ever handled a matter similar to mine? How many cases have you won in matters similar to mine? What are the possible outcomes of my case? What are the alternatives in resolving this matter? How long will the matter take to resolve? Do you recommend mediation or arbitration? What are your rates and how frequently will you bill me? What is your estimated ballpark figure for the total bill, including fees and expenses? Can junior attorneys or paralegals in the office handle some of the legal work at a lower rate?

Check with your state’s agency to see if the attorney has any complaints that have been registered against them. This could make a huge difference in your final decision.

Make an informed decision about hiring a lawyer by reviewing what their peers are saying with Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings on Lawyers.com (see Resources).

Resources

About the Author

Lea Ann Fessenden-Joseph, a professional freelance writer, spent more than 20 years with a major airline and enjoys writing about travel, health, alternative medicine and interior decorating. She is the National Caribbean Travel Examiner and her work has been featured in the "Dallas Morning News," "Caribbean Property and Lifestyle Magazine," Gadling, Travels and numerous other publications. Fessenden-Joseph attended Texas Christian University.