Choosing the Right Attorney
8 Topics to Consider
Hiring the right lawyer to defend your case is crucial. Not only will you be sharing confidential and personal information with your attorney, but you are also entrusting them with protecting your freedom and constitutional rights. Here are several factors to consider before selecting the attorney that is best for you and your legal situation.
1. Area(s) of Expertise:
When you hire an attorney, you want to know the person you are entrusting is knowledgeable and experienced in your type of case. There are many specialty areas of law, and an attorney well versed in immigration law may not know anything about tax law, for example. Does the attorney accept cases only in a practice area, or are they a jack of all trade’s general practitioner? Depending on your situation, either may be appropriate.
2. Professional Memberships:
Is the attorney actively engaged in the legal community? Does he or she stay up to date with changes in the law and applicable science? Is the attorney a member of relevant local and national organizations? With a few simple questions, you will quickly be able to identify an attorney dedicated to his or her craft. However, client beware - many legal “awards” and “organizations” are “pay to play” endeavors. I often receive letters from organizations requesting hundreds of dollars for a membership and a plaque to place on my wall. Do not be fooled; be meticulous in your research.
It is vital that you and your attorney have clear lines of communication and well-defined parameters regarding the cost of representation. Does the attorney bill an hourly rate? Via flat fee? At different stages in the case? Are payment plans available? What methods of payment does the attorney accept? Make sure to ask the attorney regarding the expected length of representation and costs. Much like most things in life, with attorneys, you often get what you pay for.
4. The Team:
Will you be working directly with your attorney, or will most of your calls and questions be directed to a legal assistant or paralegal? While these professionals are knowledgeable, talented, and play a vital role in the functioning of a law office, they should not be a substitute for the attorney’s representation. Also, does the attorney have a network of reliable and trustworthy investigators, experts, and consultants available to assist your case if necessary?
“My lawyer isn’t communicating with me.” According to the American Bar Association, this is the number one client complaint leading to ethics complaints. Does the lawyer have a policy regarding returning phone calls and emails? Does the lawyer text or instant message? Is the lawyer available during business hours only or on nights and weekends? These are all critical questions to ask at your initial consultation. Also, does the lawyer use modern technology to assist in communication? Will the lawyer meet via Zoom or other video conferencing methods?
In most cases, you will be working with your attorney closely for several weeks, months, or possibly years. The attorney must be someone you respect, trust, and like. I strongly encourage you to meet in person or via videoconferencing with any potential attorney. Your attorney reflects you. Is the attorney someone you trust as your mouthpiece in the courtroom?
Also, is the lawyer patient and willing to ensure that you understand every aspect of your case? Does the lawyer genuinely care about you and your situation or only the retainer fee? Does the attorney make you feel comfortable and reassured while not only telling you what you want to hear? Meeting with the attorney in person will give you a much better sense of the person.
Has the attorney been professionally admonished or suspended? A google search or quick phone call to the State bar may save you a headache down the road. A lawyer's reputation and credibility with the court and opposing counsel are vital. Make sure that your lawyer is in good standing.
8. Testimonials & Results:
Is your lawyer able to point to specific positive outcomes in cases like yours? Are prior clients willing to endorse the lawyer? Or inversely, were the experiences negative. There are several lawyer rating and review websites established for this purpose. Take your time and do the research.