Selecting a Lawyer – What’s Important To You?
When people need an attorney they often turn to their “trusted family advisor”, or to a relative or a friend who has had experience with that lawyer.
Perhaps they just browse the internet.
These are all good starting points, but when you select an attorney you would still want to evaluate them in terms of YOUR specific problem/need.
You want to make sure they are the right “fit” for you and for your requirements. Here are a few “criteria” that might help you to evaluate and compare your choices:
Experience, Depth of Knowledge, Ability – in the area you need help with. There is no sense is hiring the best divorce legal team, when what you really need is a qualified criminal lawyer.
If your situation is complex, it would be advisable to find an attorney with years of experience. Under ability, I would also place the capability to relate to you, their client, as a person…not a “case to be dealt with.”
After the initial meeting you will have the “feel” of whether this person is a good match for you. Sometimes very capable/intelligent attorneys do not interact well. Their preference is legal research rather than meeting with clients.
Make sure your lawyer is a good “fit” for you.
Background and Recognition in their field/area of law– there are organizations like AVVO that actually give rankings to attorneys. You can also access attorney bios in Martindale-Hubbell. You would seek an attorney with excellent credentials and good peer review ratings.
When an attorney is a member of an organization specific to their field of law, that membership signals that they keep up-to-date with the relevant legal issues. More senior attorneys often are members of both the American Bar Association (ABA) and state bar associations.
There are organizations specific to fields of law, for example the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (for criminal defense lawyers) and the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC – for estate planning, wills and trusts attorneys.)
Lawyers who have membership in such organizations are most likely attending (or speaking at) conferences and seminars and keeping abreast of changes in their specific legal landscape.
Technical Know How – this is an interesting factor that many people do not use for evaluation. But in this age of mobility, it is a good idea to look at how you and your attorney will be able to share information, questions and documents.
If you are a busy professional and need a speedy resolution to a problem, perhaps using only “snail mail” ; playing telephone tag; or having to make frequent trips to the attorney’s office are not your best options.
Likewise, using faster “courier services” for all your documents can certainly affect your bill.
If you personally are comfortable with using technology – encrypted email, texting, Skype, conference calling, management systems, etc. then you might want your attorney to utilize these more efficient methods of communication.
Availability and Responsiveness – You would like your attorney to be reasonably available to deal with your issue/problem. If it takes several days for them to respond to your telephone call, that could be a problem for you.
Under this category, I also place “Dedication” and by that I mean, dedication to you, their client. You do NOT want your “too busy” lawyer to shuffle you to someone else in their office whenever you have a question.
If your attorney is willing to meet with you out of ‘regular’ office hours or at a convenient location, this may appeal to you.
Problem Solving and Ability to Work With Others – Often there may not be a clear- cut answer to a complex question. Sometimes the solution will lie in finding a pathway through complicated legislation and interacting as a “team member” with other of your advisors e.g. a family lawyer, accountant or financial advisor.
In Estate Planning matters there are sometimes numerous other family members involved. Your attorney should have proven skills to work along with your “team.”
Salary and Fee Structure – You probably do not want the “cheapest”, but rather the best qualified. What we are seeking here is transparency.
Your lawyer should offer a “letter of engagement” outlining the “scope of work” and keep you regularly appraised of costs.
Their fee structure should be made clear to you. As your case demands changes, the fees may change accordingly, but you should be comfortable having open and frank discussions about costs and fees.
Lastly…The Best Advice is NOT TO GO IT ALONE. There are many methods to evaluate your attorney selection. Evaluation might take a bit of research, but is well worth the effort. After all, you would not hire a key employee without first checking their background and credentials.
It might be tempting to just take a legal document or solution from a book or website, using the do-it-yourself approach to law. But that path could lead to longer term negative legal consequences.
In law…He who represents himself has a fool for a client. – Abraham Lincoln
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