If you find yourself suddenly in need of a lawyer, you are probably already in a high stress situation and have now added a major new stressor to your life – the task of finding someone to represent you. In spite of and maybe because of the large number of lawyers in the world, finding one that is a good fit for you can be very difficult. Fortunately, you live in an age when you can easily access information from your home computer. Starting with this article and its guidance you can successfully these legal shark infested waters.
Talk to People
Your natural instinct is most likely going to be to hit Google hard but before you rev your search engine, the best place to start is to talk to people you already know. Real world connections can still be a valuable source of advice. To begin, check with your employer and ask if there are legal services available to you at a discounted rate. An in-house lawyer probably isn’t the best choice if your case requires specialized knowledge but for basic document preparation this can be a simple and affordable option.
Your next step should be to ask people who have been in a situation similar to yours. Has your coworker been through a divorce or your sister-in-law written her will? They may be able to point you toward a good attorney – or maybe tell you who to steer clear of. You can benefit from others’ positive and negative past experiences. At the same time, it’s important to remember that there are numerous specializations within the practice of law. The lawyer who helped your best friend establish a medical power of attorney for his parents might not be who you want for your wrongful termination suit.
With that in mind, lawyers you already know can be great sources of advice when looking for someone to represent you. They may not specialize in your specific type of case but they probably know someone who does. From old law school classmates to fellow members of the state or local Bar Association, lawyers typically have a network of peers to recommend or discredit.
If you don’t have anyone to personally ask for advice, that’s ok. There are many resources on the internet to help you make this difficult decision. An excellent place to start is one of the reputable referral sites like Avvo, help-lawer, FindLaw, LawHelp, and Lawyers.com, all of which have been recommend in Consumer Reports. You can use these sites to find basic contact information and to read client reviews. The website for the state and local bar association is likewise a good resource. It can answer frequently asked questions about laws in your geographic area and allows you to look up whether a lawyer has any legal infractions.
Set up an appointment
You may feel confident that based on your friend’s recommendation and the attorney’s online reviews, you’re ready to sign on the dotted line. Resist the urge to rush. It’s essential to ensure that your lawyer is a good fit for your personality. You may need to disclose sensitive information to this person and if you don’t feel that you can trust them, you may not be able to be totally honest. You may simply find them too abrasive or think they seem disorganized. Initial meetings are usually free (but be sure to ask first) and can make your life much easier.
There is also a series of important questions to ask during this first appointment. You want to be sure you understand the terms of your agreement before you commit yourself.
1. Who will actually be handling your case? The firm or partner may come with a gold star rating, but if your case will be handed off to a brand new associate with little supervision, you’re not getting the high standard of service the reviews have promised.
2. How do they charge? Some lawyers charge by the hour, some a flat fee, and some only if they are able to win a civil suit and recover money for you. Their billing method can make a big difference in how much you end up paying. You should also ask about what expenses you will be responsible for meeting.
3. How can you best communicate with them and how long does it typically take them to get back to a client?
4. How heavy is their current case load? If they are already overwhelmed with work, they may not be able to give you the care and attention you need.
5. Do they have any additional certifications that especially qualify them to work in this area of the law?
Remember, this is an important decision and you need to thoroughly research before making it. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to ask question, even after you’ve signed the contract. If you’re not happy with how your case is being handled, speak up. Being proactive now will save many headaches in the future.