Finding a good lawyer is just like anything else–you’ve got to shop around. Most people don’t look for a lawyer until a problem arises and they are desperate for one. Lawyers complain that they are brought in not when the problem starts, but later, after suits have been filed or are pending.
The whole idea of hiring a lawyer, however, can be intimidating. As a consumer, you should take the time to consider what you want and find the best lawyer for your time and money. Consider the following points to help you clear up the confusion.
- Think it through. It’s important to determine how you want the matter handled before you meet a lawyer. If you have a complaint against your employer, for example, and don’t want to settle, then you must stick to your goal. If the lawyer you consult with is hesitant about pursuing litigation, that’s a sign to keep looking for counsel. “A consumer must be informed of the legal talent and become educated about the process,” says Ozell Hudson Jr., president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association. Part of chat is knowing what kind of access you want or should expect. Generally, for example, you should have a call returned within 24 hours by the principal attorney. If you can’t reach that attorney, ask yourself if you’d be willing to share your story with a juniors associate. If so, a larger, more prominent law firm may suit you. However, if you’d rather have someone who will walk through every step of the way, a smaller firm may be better. Lawyers often have different rates for the principal attorney as opposed to associates. It’s important to get an estimate of the number of hours the entire matter should take–plus the ultimate ceiling of the cost–before you commit to hiring someone.
- Get a referral. Word-of-mouth referrals are still the best way to find a lawyer, particularly if he or she has recently completed a case of the same type. While it’s still important to check out the lawyer for yourself, networking with friends or other lawyers can provide a good ice-breaker and gives you some credibility. Make sure that referrer has maintained a good rapport or you could be perceived as a “deadbeat” client, as well.
- Interview the lawyer. When Claire E. Roberts needed a lawyer to handle her divorce case, she started by looking in the Yellow Pages. She had some specifics in mind. For example, she knew she wanted a female lawyer. After looking at several ads, she drew up a list of relevant questions regarding child support, alimony and military spouses and started making phone calls. “I knew just by the sound of some of their voices chat we would not hit it off, but the attorney I finally made an appointment with came off as sincere and interested in helping me as a person,” says Roberts, who followed up her phone interview with a face-to-face consultation. Make sure to take note of the lawyer’s library and