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, 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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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 who can help match your legal needs with a list of attorneys within your budget.
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 calls for you to do research and devote time into finding the right person. The energy you exert into finding the right lawyer to work with will ultimately be reflected throughout your case.