01 May Super Lawyer: Finding Your Best Lawyer
Super Lawyer: Finding Your Best Lawyer
Most attorneys and law firms have usually experienced getting contacted by clients who are looking for the “best lawyer ever”, their “super lawyer”. Obviously, the question that most colleagues ask themselves is if that attorney ever existed. This said we have made up a few ideas on what we believe will assist everyone in finding the most reliable lawyer to each client’s case.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
How To Find A Good Lawyer When You Really Need One
Determine what type of attorney you need. It is always preferable to locate an attorney who has specialized expertise in the practice area that your case involves (e.g., malpractice law, bankruptcy law, etc.). It’s also a good idea to find the attorney familiar with the courts and laws of the area where you live. This will enable your attorney to best represent your interests. Some examples of practice areas include:
- Bankruptcy law. This will be helpful if you are struggling with your finances.
- Criminal law. An attorney who specializes in criminal law is important if your case involves a crime or potentially illegal activity.
- Disability specialist. Disability specialists can handle Social Security and/or veteran’s disability claims.
- Trusts and estates. This type of lawyer deals with issues such as estate planning, qualifying for Medicaid, probating an estate, and obtaining guardianship of an elderly parent or grandparent.
- Family Law. Family law attorneys handle matters such as separation, divorce, prenuptial agreements, adoption, guardianship, child custody, and support.
- Personal injury law. Personal injury attorneys handle cases involving medical malpractice, dog bites, car accidents and any injury to a person that may be the fault of another.
- Employment law. Employment attorneys can help your business set up employment policies or handle cases where either an employee sues a business for wrongful termination or a where a business is sued.
- Small business or corporate law. If you are looking to establish a business, a small business attorney or corporate attorney is your best choice.
Contact your local bar association for qualified attorneys in your area.
Review online listings of attorneys. Many websites offer free reviews of businesses. Some places to look for lawyer reviews include: www.miabogadoya.com
- Some websites, focus on helping low-income individuals find attorneys.
- Cross-reference reviews from more than one website. This will help counter any bias in reviews you find.
Get referrals and recommendations from friends and family
Talk to friends and family members who used an attorney. Find out who they hired, for what type of service, if they were happy with the services, and why or why not. Ask if they would recommend the attorney.
Make a list of the potential attorneys you have found in your area. Include the attorney’s name, address, phone number, and website address. This will help you organize your search as you move forward.
Review each attorney’s website
You will want to look for information about the type of law the attorney practices. In addition, look for background information on the attorney, such as his or her law school and areas of specialization.
- Look for some general information about the type of legal issue you need help with, including a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section, or a blog with articles pertaining to your legal issue. The best attorneys will maintain well-developed websites offering a lot of information.
- Most attorneys’ websites will provide information about each attorney working for the firm. Take a look at each attorney’s educational background and work history.
- Typically, you should look for an attorney with at least three to five years of experience practicing the type of law you need help with. Additionally, you should choose an attorney that current practices in the area you need help with.
- Remember that many attorneys are also on social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Check these profiles as well. How an attorney conveys him- or herself to the public may help you get a sense of how you would be able to work with him or her.
Keep in mind that the size of the firm may matter
Law firms can vary in size ranging from one attorney to many attorneys, so you need to choose a law firm that you think will be best suited to your situation. Big corporations may want to hire a big-time firm to handle extremely complicated, often international, legal matters. However, if you are simply looking for someone to help you with your divorce or to help you write a will, you should feel comfortable hiring an attorney from a smaller firm
Lawyer Referral Services
Lawyer referral services are another source of information. There is a wide variation in the quality of lawyer referral services, however, even though they are required to be approved by the state bar association. Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and list only those attorneys with particular qualifications and a certain amount of past experience, while other services will list any attorney in good standing with the state bar who maintains liability insurance. Before you choose a lawyer referral service, ask what its qualifications are for including an attorney and how carefully lawyers are screened.
What you may not get from any lawyer referral service, however, is an insight into the lawyer’s philosophy — for instance, whether the lawyer is willing to spend a few hours to be your legal coach or how aggressive the lawyer’s personality is.
Here are a few other sources you can turn to for possible candidates in your search for a lawyer:
- The director of your state or the local chamber of commerce may be a good source of business lawyers.
- The director of a nonprofit group interested in the subject matter that underlies your lawsuit is sure to know lawyers who work in that area. For example, if your dispute involves trying to stop a major new subdivision, it would make sense to consult an environmental group committed to fighting urban sprawl.
- A law librarian can help identify authors in your state who have written books or articles on a particular subject — for example, construction law.
- A women’s or men’s support group will probably have a list of well-regarded family and divorce lawyers.
Businesses who provide services to key players in the legal area you are interested in may also be able to help you identify lawyers you should consider. For example, if you are interested in small business law, speak to your banker, accountant, insurance agent, and real estate broker. These people come into frequent contact with lawyers who represent business clients and are in a position to make informed judgments.
Interview the Prospective Lawyers
When you get the names of several good prospects, the next step is to talk to each person. If you outline your needs in advance, many lawyers will be willing to meet with you for a half-hour or so at no charge so that you can size them up and make an informed decision.
Pay particular attention to the personal chemistry between you and your lawyer. No matter how experienced and well-recommended a lawyer is, if you feel uncomfortable with that person during your first meeting or two, you may never achieve an ideal lawyer-client relationship. Trust your instincts and seek a lawyer whose personality is compatible with your own. Look also for experience, personal rapport, and accessibility.
Communication and Promptness
Ask all prospective lawyers how you will be able to contact them and how long it will take them to return your communications. And don’t assume that because the lawyer seems friendly and easy to talk to that it’s okay to overlook this step.
Unfortunately, the complaint logs of all lawyer regulatory groups indicate that many lawyers are terrible communicators. If every time you have a problem there’s a delay of several days before you can talk to your lawyer on the phone or get an appointment, you’ll lose precious time, not to mention sleep.
Almost nothing is more aggravating to a client than to leave a legal project in a lawyer’s hands and then have weeks or even months go by without anything happening. You want a lawyer who will work hard on your behalf and follow through promptly on all assignments.
Willingness to Work With You
When you have a legal problem, you need legal information. Lawyers, of course, are prime sources of this information, but if you bought all the needed information at their rates — $150 to $450 an hour — you’d quickly empty your bank account. Fortunately, many lawyers will work with you to help you acquire a good working knowledge of the legal principles and procedures you need to deal with your problem at least partly on your own.
If you are hoping to represent yourself and use a lawyer only for advice, make sure the lawyer is open to that type of set-up. Likewise, if you’re going into business and will draft your own bylaws or business agreements, ask the lawyer if she’s open to reviewing your drafts and making comments.
Consider a Specialist
Most lawyers specialize in certain areas, and even a so-called “general practitioner” may not know that much about the particular area of your concern. For example, of the almost one million lawyers in South America today, probably fewer than 10,000 possess sufficient training and experience in small business law to be of real help to an aspiring entrepreneur.
It can pay to work with a lawyer who already knows the field, such as employment discrimination, zoning laws, software design issues, or restaurant license. That way you can take advantage of the fact that the lawyer is already far up the learning curve. Sometimes specialists charge a little more, but if their specialized information is truly valuable, it can be money well spent.
Make an appointment with any attorneys remaining on your list
Contact each attorney and set up a consultation. Most attorneys do consultation appointments for free. However, some may charge a small fee for a consultation. Make certain that you know whether you will be charged, and don’t make an appointment with an attorney who isn’t forthcoming about these details.
- Most attorneys offer consultations for free. Start your search with these before you consult with an attorney who charges for initial consultations.
- If you do not live in the same state as the attorney, you can schedule a phone consultation instead of an in-person meeting. However, because you will usually want your attorney to appear with you in court, you should try to find a local attorney to represent you.
Write out questions about the lawyer’s practice
You can generally find out the basic information about the attorney online, such as how long s/he has been practicing, where s/he went to law school, etc. For your in-person questions, ask about matters that are relevant to your specific case. The attorney should not have any problem answering any questions you may have, and should not sound hesitant or unsure. Areas to ask about include questions about the following:
You should ask whether the attorney offers hourly pricing or flat fees? Flat fee pricing is very popular for many areas of practice, particular things like family law.
Delivery time for legal work.
You should ask how quickly you can expect from the attorney to complete your legal project. Your attorney will likely not be able to give you an exact number, but s/he should be able to tell you how long previous, similar cases have taken and when you can likely expect a resolution.
- You will probably want to ask what the attorney’s track record is with cases like yours. Attorneys cannot guarantee an outcome (they are ethically forbidden to do so) but you should have an idea of what results you can reasonably expect. You can also ask for references from prior clients. Be aware that the attorney must obtain permission from prior clients before s/he can give you their information, so you may not get references immediately.
You should ask how quickly the attorney can start. You should also ask who your primary contact throughout the case will be. Will you hear mostly from an assistant or junior colleague? You should know who to contact with questions about your case.
If the attorney has misconduct or reprimands on his or her record – which you can find out at your state’s bar association website – ask about them. In some cases, the infraction may be minor, such as failure to pay bar fees on time. You must decide whether the infraction is significant enough to disturb you.
Bring documents or information to the meeting. The lawyer may ask you to bring certain documents, but you should also bring any that you think are important to the case. Gather these documents ahead of time to be sure that you can locate them on the day of the appointment.
Attend your consultations
Meet with, or talk to, each of the lawyers you selected. Feel free to take notes while talking to each one, so that you can remember later what each attorney said.
- Remember that you are interviewing the attorney for a job. Treat your meeting as such, a job interview. If you feel as though the attorney isn’t listening to you or isn’t answering your questions, pick a different attorney.
Choose an attorney that you feel comfortable with
- If the attorney makes you uncomfortable in any way, you should choose someone different to represent you.
- Also, consider how well the attorney answered your questions. If s/he hesitated, used too much “legalese,” or didn’t attend to your needs, pick someone else.
How attorneys charge for their services
Typically, there are three major ways that attorneys bill for their services. That is, a flat fee, a contingency fee or hourly fees
- An attorney charging a flat fee will charge one fee (sometimes upfront) for handling an entire matter. Regardless of how many hours the matter takes. Some examples are criminal cases, bankruptcy cases, domestic relations cases, such as divorce or custody matters. Also, document draftings, such as drafting a will or a trust document.
- An attorney charging a contingency fee does not collect legal fees from the client. Unless the attorney recovers money for the client, either through a settlement or a trial. The attorney will receive a percentage of the settlement amount, usually between 30 to 40 percent. Some examples are personal injury cases and employment discrimination cases. Other types of cases where a large recovery from a corporation or business is expected.
- Lawyers charging an hourly rate “bill” hours. Usually, hourly rates are used by businesses and corporations who may be involved in litigation. Additionally, individuals may be charged hourly rates for long or complicated litigation
Negotiate a fee
Budget what you are able to spend. Additionally, your attorney should inform you of doing anything in your case that takes it out of a budget.
- If your case becomes more complicated or takes longer, you may need to pay more in legal fees.
- If you cannot afford the attorney’s fees upfront, ask about potential arrangements such as payment plans. Many attorneys are willing to work with your base on your financial needs.
- There are several ways that attorneys can help those on moderate or low incomes find legal counsel. Many firms offer “sliding fees” based on your income so that you pay however much your income level allows. You can sometimes even pay in barter, by trading goods or services (e.g., web design, gardening) for legal counsel. This is up to the individual attorney.