I once was in court and saw a person trying to represent himself. After losing his case, the deflated soul told the judge that he never hired a lawyer and didn’t know how to go about finding the right person. The judge said to him “Son, they come in all price ranges and all personality types. Good luck.”
Indeed, choosing the right lawyer can be a difficult task—but it certainly is a decision that bears some thought and consideration. In my practice, I often ask clients how they came to me. And over the years, I have found that most people spend more time reviewing and researching which restaurant or hotel to choose than they do in deciding which attorney to hire. Hopefully, the following will help de-mystify the process of finding and hiring a lawyer.
Check Their Online Reputation
First, like most things these days, use the Internet. A lawyer’s website can tell you a lot about the attorney (after all, the lawyer probably wrote the website and lawyers love talking about themselves!). The attorney’s website should give some insight into his or her background and experience. In addition, you should review some independent sources. There are great resources for reviewing attorneys such as avvo.com, lawyers.com, and martindale.com (Martindale-Hubbell is one of the oldest directories for attorneys nationwide).
Many of the more preeminent attorneys in their field are featured in publications such as Super Lawyers or the Legal Elite by Virginia Business magazine. These are special publications issued annually for and about attorneys. Those types of special recognitions can also be found and confirmed on the web.
Find an Attorney Who Specializes in Your Legal Matter
It is also important that the lawyer you choose has experience handling your legal issue. Like medicine, law has become much more specialized. If you are having a will or a trust prepared, you need a lawyer who regularly handles estates. If you are starting a new business, your lawyer should be well versed in business law and should be able to advise you on which legal entity to choose (e.g., an LLC, a corporation, etc.). And if you are involved in a civil case, you definitely want a lawyer who regularly tries cases in court.
Ask Many Questions
When you first meet your prospective attorney, you should feel free to ask questions. Questions such as: What is your background? How much experience do you have handling these types of matters? How do you charge your fees? Who will be representing me? Will it be just you, or will there be others (paralegals and associates)? And if so, how will I be paying for their time? In short, know what you are getting. There are no dumb questions when deciding to hire a lawyer.
Figure Out if They Are a Good Fit for You
Once you have met with your prospective attorney, you should give some thought as to whether you want to move forward with hiring that person. Attorneys are often “interviewed” by prospective clients, especially if it is a particularly substantial undertaking. It sounds cliché, but there should be some chemistry between you and your attorney. I am the first to admit that I am not the right lawyer for everyone.
Like many relationships in life, someone who makes a great spouse for one person might be a very bad choice for someone else. And you, as the client, need to feel comfortable with whom you are hiring. When you leave the attorney’s office, you should feel better than when you went in. You should feel comfortable and confident that your issue is now securely on your attorney’s shoulders, and not yours. If your gut reaction gives you an uneasy feeling, go back to researching.
And one last thing: Any lawyer who tells you that he or she has never lost a case, hasn’t tried enough cases. You might want to grab your wallet and reconsider your choices.