How to Choose a Lawyer

By Kiffanie A. Phillips

At one point or another, most people find themselves in a situation where they need a lawyer. Whether it's handling a real estate transaction, formulating an estate plan, setting up a business, or assisting an elderly parent, there are a vast number of situations where the expertise of a good lawyer will be necessary. 

How to Choose a Lawyer

Personal referrals are often the best place to start. Begin by asking friends, neighbors, and colleagues for recommendations.  The State Bar Association can help you find an attorney with a specific area of expertise. Online resources can be another source for referrals. However, don't make a decision about a lawyer based solely on someone else's recommendation or website profile. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer's personality. 

How Do You Know If Your Attorney Is a Good Fit?

After you get the names of good prospects, the next step is to meet with the lawyer personally. You are not committing to hire the lawyer by meeting with them.  Be prepared with a written list of questions to evaluate:

·         Area(s) of expertise.  You want to make sure that the lawyer you hire has experience in the area of law in which you require assistance.

·         Potential costs.  Legal advice can become quite costly, so it's important that you know how much your lawyer will charge you. With that in mind, you should inquire about costs at the outset of the initial meeting. The lawyer should be comfortable discussing fees. In choosing a good lawyer, there should be transparency and no hidden fees associated with their services. All fees and prices should be put in writing and the lawyer should take the time to explain the billing process—how often it will occur, how will it occur and the payment responsibilities of the client.  You should not feel uncomfortable discussing fees with a lawyer.

·         Communication.  Ask prospective lawyers how you will be able to contact them and how long it will take them to return your communications. And don't assume that because the lawyer seems friendly and easy to talk to that it's okay to overlook this step. While every lawyer will most likely be handling several cases at a time, your case is a priority for you, and you need to make sure the lawyer you hire recognizes this and communicates with you in a timely manner.

Finally, in addition to getting answers to questions like these, you also want to make sure you and the attorney you retain are a good fit when it comes to personality. Finding a good lawyer is about establishing a relationship. No matter how experienced and well-recommended a lawyer is, if you feel uncomfortable with that person during your first meeting or two, you may never achieve an ideal lawyer-client relationship. Ask yourself, do I feel at ease with this lawyer? Will I feel comfortable asking him or her questions and bringing up issues that concern me?   

Sample Questions to Ask

What experience does the lawyer have in your type of legal matter?

How long have they been in practice?

What percentage of their caseload is dedicated to handling your type of legal problem?

How long will the case take?

What is the range of possible outcomes of the case?

What are their fees and how are they structured?

Do they have a written fee agreement or representation agreement?

How will they inform you of developments in your case?

Other Things to Consider

Was the office and its location comfortable?

Was everyone within the firm professional, treating you with respect?

Was the lawyer open and willing to share as much information as possible?

Did the lawyer demonstrate their expertise by providing detailed information that you did not know regarding your legal matter?