Choosing the right attorney is challenging enough given the vast amount of practicing legal professionals, but in the midst of a personal or professional crisis, the stress involved can make the task overwhelming.
Because of the role that statutes of limitations and other deadlines might play in your situation, it is imperative to begin your search as soon as possible. GetLegal.com offers the following tips on finding and hiring the right attorney.
- Narrow your options. Law is becoming more and more specialized, so when you begin to sort through potential attorneys, zero in on the ones whose practice area relates to your needs. Friends, other lawyers you know and attorney directories are helpful resources for locating attorneys who can help you.
- Screen potential attorneys over the phone. Speaking with a law firm on the phone can save you time by eliminating prospects without sitting down for a meeting. Condense your problem into a sentence or two so that whomever you speak to can quickly determine if your situation is a good fit for what the firm provides. This also is a good time to ask if the firm offers a free consultation; if not, you’ll be obligated to pay for the initial consultation whether you choose the attorney or not.
- Arrive prepared at your first meeting. Practice giving a clear summary of your situation before your initial consultation. The more detailed information and relevant documents you provide, the easier it will be for an attorney to determine the proper course of action for your case. Also come prepared with a list of questions for the attorney, such as how long he or she has been practicing or what his or her record is with similar cases.
- Evaluate the communication level in the first meeting. How an attorney communicates during the initial consultation is a good predictor of your future working relationship. Make sure the attorney speaks clearly and directly to you in a way you can understand. Beware of attorneys who use legal jargon and bold promises instead of speaking in terms of concrete plans, goals and costs for your case. If an attorney doesn’t treat your case with interest and urgency, move to the next name on your list.
- Make sure your goals match the attorney’s record. Consider exactly what you hope to get out of your case. If you’re seeking damages, are you after the maximum amount, regardless of the length of litigation, or would you be interested in a settlement? For criminal cases, are you open to a plea bargain? After you’ve figured out how you want your case to play out, make sure the attorney has a history of achieving similar results in cases like yours.
- Determine the attorney’s level of involvement. In some law firms, especially larger ones, an attorney works with other lawyers, partners and associates on cases. It’s important to know if the attorney you consult with will be the main handler and decision-maker on your case. If you’re comfortable with other people playing a substantial role in your case, make sure you know their qualifications.
- Be patient in your search for an attorney. It’s a good idea to not sign on with an attorney at the first consultation; even if you’re impressed, you should take a day or two to think it over. Sometimes an attorney’s charming or caring personality makes such a strong impression that you might not consider other factors as carefully as you should. We recommend that you speak to or meet with more than one attorney before you make your final decision.
- Get any agreements with your attorney in writing. Make certain that all terms of your agreement with your attorney are explicitly written in a contract. Costs and fee scheduling typically are the biggest points of dispute between clients and attorneys, so make sure that money issues in particular are settled and both parties understand the arrangements.
- Commit to working with your attorney. When beginning a working relationship with your attorney, make sure you know what your own responsibilities and expectations are. Don’t expect your case to work itself out with no effort on your part. Take initiative in following up regularly. Your best results are going to come from teamwork, so figure out how to communicate and keep each other in touch as your situation develops.