Whether you’re starting a new business, planning your estate, or fighting a DUI, finding the right lawyer is the most important step in embarking on any legal process. Finding a trusted and experienced professional to handle your legal matter does take some time and forethought. If you end up choosing the first lawyer you find, you might end up ultimately wasting a lot of time and money if they aren’t a good fit. Here are some ways that you can go about finding the right attorney.

Start by getting a recommendation

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Obtaining personal referrals is usually the best place to begin when searching for a lawyer with a proven track record—and it’ll also help you avoid those that haven’t been so successful.

“About a quarter of my clients are referrals from other clients or other firms, people with whom I have worked, been on a bar association committee, or am friends with and they know my work,” says Patricia Browne Holmes of Riley Safer Holmes and Cancila LLP. “Referrals are extremely important to a law firm’s business. Often other firms may have conflicts or may need lawyers to represent various witnesses in ongoing matters.”

According to the 2019 Legal Trends Report from Clio, 59 percent of people received a referral to lawyers from friends or family. This was followed by the 32 percent who sought a referral from a lawyer. The American Bar Association (ABA) recommends starting looking for a lawyer through a trusted friend, relative, or business associate. 

When obtaining a recommendation from a friend or colleague, be sure to ask specifically what work was done, what the outcome was, and how long ago it was to make sure the referral is relevant to your situation. It is one thing to hire a lawyer to draft a real estate contract or a will and another to be represented in an acrimonious divorce or when charged with a felony. Each legal situation is different and not every lawyer is the right one for you and your legal problem.

View attorney advertisements with a healthy dose of skepticism

While advertisements can help you survey the legal landscape, keep in mind that they are one-sided and biased. Be wary about everything you read and hear, especially advertisements. 

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't look at advertisements for help. Newspaper, telephone directory, radio, television, and Internet ads, along with direct mail, can make you familiar with the names of lawyers who may be appropriate for your legal needs, according to the ABA. These ads can help determine the lawyer's practice area, which in turn can help you narrow down which type of lawyer you need for your case.

It’s wise to consult a second source to see if the claims in such advertisements hold true against the attorney’s reputation in the industry. While platforms that offer client feedback, like Yelp, can be informative, it’s also a good idea to vet your prospective attorney among other practicing professionals. 

Publications that offer peer-reviewed rankings like Best Lawyers and U.S. News Best Law Firms provide transparent guidance on whether an attorney is respected in their area of practice.

Interview your potential attorneys

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of a few potential attorneys in an appropriate practice area, set up a time for a phone call or in-person meeting. Many lawyers offer free consultations; in addition to gauging their enthusiasm and availability to handle your legal matter, some questions you should ask may include:

  • What is your education and how long have you been practicing?
  • How many cases like mine have you handled in the past?
  • Who else from your firm will be involved in my legal matter and how much of my personal time should I expect to spend on it?
  • What are the chances of successfully or unsuccessfully resolving my matter?

Not all cases are quite cut-and-dry. Your case might not have a simple solution. If a lawyer does not offer a free consultation and quotes a fee, find out exactly what services and expenses the charge does and does not include.

If your particular legal matter involves litigation or the potential to go to trial, it is essential that you find out if your attorney is prepared to pursue these routes and what their track record is.

Know your monetary limits

Part of choosing the right lawyer is setting a budget beforehand and sticking to it. You won’t be able to enjoy winning your case if you have a debt to deal with in the aftermath. Even if the lawyer you want to work with is outside of your budget, you can always ask them to recommend someone within the same practice area and in your price range.

“Often consumers call our firm when they are in need of assistance, but we are not within their budget for legal services,” explains Holmes. “Sometimes, if it is appropriate for them and for us, we will take on the matter pro bono or at a discount. In other circumstances, we will refer the matter to smaller firms or individual practitioners with whom we have an ongoing relationship.”

Local bar associations also have referral services that can help match your legal needs with a list of attorneys within your budget. There are several legal assistance programs that offer inexpensive or free legal services to those in need that can be found online. Most of these programs do have guidelines for eligibility, which are often based on where you live, the size of your family, and your income. 

Some lawyers offer pro bono services, but this is based on their discretion. Some legal aid offices have their own lawyers while others work with volunteer lawyers. It's important to note that in civil cases, people do not have the right to a free attorney.

Trust your gut

It can be quite discouraging to go through the process of choosing a lawyer only to realize that you don’t mesh well together or that they aren’t effectively attending to your legal needs. Do you feel comfortable enough to confide in your attorney? Are you able to honestly and openly disclose all facts and expectations you have? If not, then you might need to rethink your choice.

Lack of regular communication, deadlines passing without updates, and negligence in answering questions are definitely red flags.

“The consumer should feel free to demand answers from their lawyer as well as have time to sit and discuss the matter in a way that is understandable and satisfies the consumer that they are getting good service,” says Holmes. “They should have a discussion in the beginning to set expectations, deadlines, and methods of communication that will satisfy the consumer of the level of services received.”

Much of finding the right attorney for your needs call for you to do research and devote time to finding the right person. The energy you exert into finding the right lawyer to work with will ultimately be reflected throughout your case.