What should you look for when choosing a lawyer?
A lawyer is an advocate. She should fight on your behalf, using reasonable, ethical, and cost-effective means. You should have an open line of communication with your attorney. After all, there’s a reason why attorneys are also referred to as “counselors.” Great attorneys can be found in high rise office buildings, small firms, solo offices, and in online directories.
With a great attorney being defined in so many ways, what qualities should you look for?
The first, and perhaps most important, quality is that you should feel comfortable in your counselor’s presence. A comfortable and open relationship will allow you to share relevant information to your case openly, honestly, and completely. After all, a lawyer can’t fully assist you without knowing all of the pertinent information.
Clear Fee Structure
Another absolutely important characteristic of a good attorney is a clear, honest, and appropriate fee structure. For one, you’ll want to make sure that the price of the attorney is worth the case. Smaller disputes generally don’t warrant hiring the most expensive counsel. In addition, you should ask your attorney if they bill by the hour or if a flat fee arrangement is an option. While some attorneys might advertise a very low flat fee, you’ll also want to inquire as to any additional fees. The advertised price might not include court filing fees, or even the cost of printing documents for your case.
Before you even meet with the attorney, you should search for his or her name on the Internet. Look for online reviews and other comments that may be online regarding the attorney’s services. You should also check with your state’s bar association website to see if any complaints, misconduct charges, or malpractice accusations have been filed against the attorney.
You should also ask the attorney about her experience. Is this her first time handling this type of legal matter? For smaller matters, that might be acceptable and could even save you money. For larger disputes, you might consider a more seasoned (and likely more expensive) attorney.
Communication and Availability
If this is more than a short-term dispute, such as a contentious divorce, you’ll need to stay in contact with this attorney regularly over a few months, if not years. What you want to avoid is the attorney that does not return phone calls or emails in a timely manner. Though your case may be routine for him, it is very important to you and should be treated as such.
One way to test the firm’s communication is to email them questions shortly after your initial visit. Withhold a few questions from the consultation and follow up via email. If it takes days to respond, the firm may just be too busy to handle your matter. On the other hand, if you are impressed with their response time and answers, you may have just found your attorney.
How to choose the right lawyer: points to consider when selecting an attorney
With 1.1 million lawyers licensed to practice law in the United States, how does a construction company faced with a legal problem decide which attorney is best suited to help the company resolve the problem?
Selecting the right attorney is a time-consuming, but important process. To get started, develop a list of potential candidates by talking to business advisors, people in your industry, other attorneys and other trusted sources. You can consult law firm websites, online resources, bar associations or other referral networks.
The next step is to cut the list of potential candidates down to a manageable short list of preferred candidates. Then, contact and interview each of the preferred candidates in person. An increasing number of companies are investing the time and resources to go through a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) process.
Regardless of whether your company follows a formal or an informal process, construction executives should consider the following ten items when deciding which attorney is best for your company’s legal needs.
Identify Your Legal Problem and Use a Specialist
The first step in the process of finding an attorney is to understand the problem or issue facing you. The law has many different specialties and sub-specialties, and before you can accurately determine the best attorney to represent you, you need to determine what kind of lawyer is best suited to address and resolve your problem. During this initial phase, consult your general corporate lawyer or another trusted business advisor such as your accountant.
Select a specialist to help you solve your problem. Lawyers today are as specialized as doctors. You would not ask your internist to perform open heart surgery. Likewise, you should not ask your general corporate lawyer to handle a wage and hour audit or an OSHA inspection. A specialist will know the latest developments and legal nuances applicable to your problem without charging you extra to be on the “cutting edge.” This up-to-the-minute knowledge is essential since it could be the marginal difference in winning or losing your case.
Make Sure the Attorney has the Right Experience
The appropriate level of experience is one of the most critical criteria in selecting a lawyer. You want a lawyer with a track record of success with your type of problem. Such a record of experience will increase the likelihood that the attorney can help to resolve your problem successfully.
Obviously, length of service, number of cases in a particular specialty and geographic area and prior results are important matters to consider in evaluating the attorney’s “experience.” Along with experience comes knowledge of the adversaries and personalities involved in a case cumulative wisdom and perspective to evaluate risks and develop winning strategies related to a particular problem and confidence to steer you through the twists and turns of the legal process.
Viewing the law firm’s website will also give you insight into the scope of the firm’s practice. Explore the website of each firm on your “short list” and Google the firm and individual attorneys. These steps will help you assess the depth and breadth of the firm’s practice.
Consider The Attorney’s Approach And Fit With Your Company
Attorneys have many different styles, personalities and approaches to representing clients. In addition to finding a “professional” attorney, you should match the attorney’s traits to your own style, personality and approach. Underestimating the importance of this subjective factor would be a grave mistake. In the final analysis, you have to find an attorney with whom you are comfortable and that you can trust to take care of matters that may impact your business.
Use an Attorney Familiar with Your Region
Whether you use a local or national specialist depends on the nature of the matter at issue. For example, real estate or workers’ compensation matters are almost always handled locally. On the other hand, matters of federal law, such as wage and hour or labor law can be handled best by national specialists. Transportation and technology make it possible to use a specialist from almost anywhere in the country.
Someone familiar with your region will have better knowledge of the local laws and procedures and the personalities of the local judicial or administrative authorities. Moreover, face-to-face communications are generally better than telephone conferences and e-mail, so it may be better to have the specialist located close enough to visit the site of the problem in short order.
I want to hire a lawyer, but I do not have much money. Where can I find low-cost legal help?
Several legal assistance programs offer inexpensive or free legal services to those in need. Look in the yellow pages under topics such as “legal clinics,” “legal aid,” or “legal advice,” or search online. Most legal aid programs have special guidelines for eligibility, often based on where you live, the size of your family, and your income. Some legal aid offices have their own staff lawyers, and others operate with volunteer lawyers. Note that people do not have a right to a free lawyer in civil legal matters.
I have been accused of a crime, and I cannot afford a lawyer. What can I do?
If you are accused of a crime, the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to be represented by a lawyer in any case in which you could be incarcerated for six months or more. State constitutions may guarantee your right to a lawyer for lesser crimes. If you cannot afford a lawyer, either the judge hearing the case will appoint a private lawyer to represent you free of charge or the government’s public defender will handle your case, also at no charge.
Besides court-appointed defenders, is there any other form of government assistance available?
Departments and agencies of both the state and federal governments often have staff lawyers who can help the general public in limited situations, without charge. Consider contacting the relevant federal agency if you have specific concerns, such as environmental protection problems or discrimination in employment or housing.
Your State’s Attorney General also may provide guidance to the public on state laws, without charge. Some states, for example, maintain consumer protection departments as a function of the Attorney General’s office. Similarly, through their law departments, counties, cities, and townships often have government lawyers who may provide the public with guidance about local laws. Some of these local offices also offer consumer protection assistance. To find such agencies, check the government listings in your phone book or using your favorite search engine on the Internet.
Choosing an Attorney: 4 Things to Consider
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 4 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 advice, you want to ensure that they know their stuff. You may need to ask for referrals from people who have worked with them before. You can also seek out referral services online who can pair you with a locally certified lawyer suited to your needs.
Personal recommendations or connections can also be valuable, such as friends or family who have worked with a specific attorney.
Laws vary by state. This means you should look for someone in your area who is familiar with the region’s legal requirements.
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 smaller issues. 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.