Have you ever tried to get a lawyer? It’s easy if you don’t care which lawyer you get. But what if you want a great lawyer? If you search online, you’ll see hundreds of results. In the results, who should you pick? The lawyer at the top of the list? The lawyer with the professional picture? The lawyer with the most stars next to their name? Is there a way to figure this out and get a great lawyer?
Yes, there is, and it’s not hard. If you read this guide, assuming you follow its steps, you’ll be able to get a great lawyer for whatever your situation.
Find A Lawyer Experienced With Your Issue
The first thing you should do is find a lawyer experienced with your legal issue. You can find a lawyer almost anywhere. Many people hire a lawyer they found online or through social media, through referrals by family and friends, or even from the phone book or yellow pages. The place you find a lawyer doesn’t matter as much as their experience. Specifically, you need to find out whether the lawyer has experience in the field of law where you need help.
Here are some ways that you can find out if a lawyer has experience in the field of law you need:
- Read their biography on their website. It may indicate how long the lawyer has practiced law in that field.
- Ask the lawyer yourself when you speak to them on the phone or meet with them in person.
- Read their blog and any of their other publications you can locate.
- Call their law firm and ask how long the lawyer has been practicing law in that field. You can also ask whether they have any special designations awarded in that area.
Research The Lawyer’s Background
In addition to researching their experience, you should also research other things about the lawyer’s background.
Licensed And In Good Standing
The first thing you should do is verify the lawyer has a license to practice law in the state they are practicing law. Why? Because practicing law without a license is illegal. The requirements to get a law license and maintain it are passing the state bar exam, keeping up to date with continuing legal education requirements, and avoiding disciplinary issues.
You should visit the American Bar Association for lawyer licensing. At the page, click on your state and look up a lawyer that you found. Most states will display whether the lawyer is licensed and still in good standing with the bar association.
Presence In Your City
Here’s a question you might not have considered. Is hiring a lawyer located in a different city wise?
Usually, the answer is no. A lawyer outside your city might not have experience with city-specific rules or laws that might affect your case. More importantly, the reputation of a lawyer outside your city isn’t affected if they do a poor job. In your geographic area, the lawyer is unknown, and in their geographic area, you are unknown. There is no incentive for the lawyer to maintain a good reputation where you live because they don’t live there. For these reasons, we usually recommend hiring a lawyer in your city.
But there is something you should know regarding a lawyer’s office. Some lawyers set up empty offices in a city to make it appear like they serve a wider geographic area. If the lawyer works at a small law firm with many offices, you should ask them how many hours a week they work in the office in your city. These types of questions are necessary to get answered before you hire an attorney.
Good Reputation In Your City
The next step in researching a lawyer’s background is investigating the lawyer’s reputation in your city.
Participation in Local Events
You should check the lawyer’s website. In many cases, a lawyer’s profile will list what events the lawyer volunteers at or participates in for a specific city. Follow up with these organizations and ask for feedback and comments about the lawyer.
Friends and Family
Ask your friends and family if they know about the lawyer. They might have used the lawyer in the past or know someone that did. Follow these leads and you might be surprised at what you discover.
Social Media Comments
At many social media sites, people can leave comments about current or past experience with a particular business. You should do some detective work and it might pay off. Here are some places you can look for feedback about the attorney:
- Facebook – past clients may have commented on the lawyer’s page.
- Twitter – past clients can hashtag the lawyer’s profile and comment about their experience.
- Google Maps – past clients may have commented on the lawyer if you search for the lawyer’s office address.
- Martindale – past clients can rate attorneys at Martindale.
You might want to ask the attorney over the phone or during the first meeting for names of a few past clients who can give a referral. Keep in mind that you likely won’t get names of clients who had a bad experience.
Ask Questions Before The Initial Consultation
At this point, you’ve found a lawyer experienced in the area of law where you need help and you’ve researched their background. If your research looks promising, now it’s time to call the lawyer and see what they’re like over the phone.
Before you call, keep one thing in mind. The lawyer will not give you any legal advice over the phone until you have hired them to represent you (which is almost always at an initial face to face meeting). The phone call is not the time to get into specifics of your case. Instead, use your time on the phone to see if the lawyer sounds like someone you want to meet face to face to discuss your case.
There are several ways to get the lawyer’s phone number. First, try to find their direct dial number from their website. At law firms with multiple attorneys, they will usually have a biographical page for each lawyer. These pages might have a direct dial for the attorney. If you can’t find their direct dial, don’t sweat it. Just call the law firm’s main office number and ask for the lawyer by name.
If you do end up speaking with the lawyer, don’t go into detail about your legal issues unless asked. Instead, make notes on how the lawyer speaks to you:
- Does the lawyer treat you with respect or talk down to you?
- Does the lawyer sound interested in your situation?
- Does the lawyer come across as friendly?
- Do they sound like someone you could trust?
- Do they sound like someone you want to meet face to face for a more in-depth conversation?
If you decide to go forward with an in-person consultation, make sure to ask who you will be meeting with you. It should be with the attorney that you already researched or at least another attorney at the law firm. If it is with a non-lawyer, then you might want to find a different law firm. They might say it’s with a different attorney. In that case, get their name and research their background. Remember, if things don’t feel right, cancel your appointment and keep looking.
There is one question you must ask before the initial consultation, and that is how much the initial consultation costs. Not all lawyers give free initial consultations. If you forget to ask, you could get stuck with a hefty bill from a lawyer you don’t want to hire!
Ask Questions During The Initial Consultation
The first meeting an attorney is your golden opportunity. It only lasts about an hour, so you need to make the most of your time. Your ultimate goal is to take everything you learn at the meeting and determine, based on all your research, whether this is the lawyer you should hire.
Questions In General
Here are some general questions that you should ask the attorney when you meet with them during the initial consultation.
How Long Have They Been a Lawyer?
Ask the lawyer “how long have you been a lawyer?” Sometimes you can find out from their website. But if it’s not on their website or you can’t figure it out on your own, then just ask. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of not asking and not knowing. It is incorrect to think that just because the lawyer has some gray hair, they must have experience This type of thinking is totally wrong! Law school doesn’t have an age limit.
But this isn’t to say that a new lawyer cannot provide you good representation. In many instances, a newer lawyer might work that much harder on your case than an experienced and busy lawyer.
What Percentage Will They Work On Your Case?
Ask the lawyer “what percentage will you work on my case?” There are two questions tucked inside this question.
The first part asks if they will personally be working on your case. You might be surprised to learn that often, the lawyer you first meet isn’t the lawyer handling your case. It is wise to never hire someone unless you’ve met them first. Unless, of course, they are some world-renowned expert lawyer. Frequently, the lawyer might be in the business of brokering his clients out to other lawyers. If you run into this situation, you’re wasting your money because you are paying the lawyer to act as an intermediary.
The second part asks them how much will they work on your case. Is the lawyer going to work on your case 5% and have someone else work on it 95%? You need to ask this question. You also need to ask who that other person is going to be. Is it going to be a junior associate? Is it going to be another seasoned lawyer? What’s their name so you can research their background, etc.
How Are Questions Handled?
Ask the lawyer “who is my point of contact?” The lawyer might reply that if you have a question, you’ll have to pass it along to their non-lawyer assistant. Is this okay with you? There isn’t anything wrong with going through a lawyer’s assistant. It’s just good to have an understanding
Also, ask the lawyer “how fast are questions answered?” You should get an understanding of the turnaround time for questions. Is it immediately, within an hour, a day, a week? There is no universally correct answer. The best answer is how fast do you need questions answered? If the lawyer says it will take three days and you feel this is too long, then look for another lawyer. But if all the lawyers say this, then you might need to dial down your expectations.
Questions In the Area of Law You Need Help
After you ask the general questions listed above, you should ask some specific questions about the area of law that you need help.
How Long Have They Practiced Law in the Specific Area You Need Help?
Ask the lawyer “how long have you been practicing [field of law you need help with] law?” Unlike engineering, where an individual majored in mechanical or electrical engineering, law school doesn’t have a major in subcategories of law. So ask the lawyer how long have they been practicing in the area of law you need. It might be that the lawyer has been practicing law for many years but just switched over to your specific area recently.
How Will They Be Paid?
Ask the lawyer “how much do you charge and how will you be paid?” You need to find out what the lawyer will charge (whether it’s a flat fee or hourly fee) and compare it to other attorneys in your city. It is well known that lawyer fees vary by large margins and you might want to compare rates between one or two lawyers. You don’t want to get ripped off, but you also don’t want to settle for the cheapest lawyer. As with many things, the better someone is at something, the more they cost.
In regards to payment, there are generally two ways to pay a lawyer. The first is up-front, in one or more amounts. The second is in installments, which is very common in chapter 13 bankruptcy. Your finances might be tight, so figure out how much the lawyer costs, how they want to be paid and compare it to other attorneys in the area.
Other Questions About Fees and Costs
There are some additional questions you should ask the lawyer about fees and costs:
- How many hours do cases like mine usually take (if they charge hourly)?
- What additional costs are expected (ex., filings fees, court costs, investigators, etc)?
- Do you have a written fee agreement?
- What happens if I can’t pay in the middle of my case?
Record Your Observations About The Lawyer
You should always make observations about the lawyer when speaking with them on the phone and meeting with them in person. Here is a list of some of the observations to make. Your ultimate goal is to figure out if this is the lawyer you want to hire.
- Is the lawyer upfront or do they promise you the moon?
- Did they feel trustworthy when you spoke with them?
- How was their personality?
- Did you feel rushed and felt they wanted you out so they could talk to the next in line?
- Would you be comfortable hiring the lawyer?
- When you spoke to the lawyer, did they seem knowledgeable?
- Did the lawyer steer you towards hiring him or her (so he could make money from you) or did he suggest other avenues such as calling your creditors to ask if they would settle for reduced amounts?
Reach A Conclusion
Now it’s time to take all of the information you’ve collected about the lawyer and analyze the data.
Finding the right lawyer is a long process, but the lawyer you hire will have serious effects upon your situation and future. For these reasons, you should take your time, follow this guide, and you will have a better chance at getting the best lawyer for your needs.