If you need a lawyer and don’t have one, you probably have a specific problem or need in mind. Since most lawyers today limit their practice to certain fields (it has become impossible to know every area of the law), you should focus on lawyers that deal with your area of need. You can locate these lawyers through the yellow pages, through lawyer referral services, or through referrals of people you know (probably the best source).
Now you have a list of names of potential lawyers. Call them and ask for an appointment. Many lawyers are happy to meet with you and provide you with an evaluation of your case. This initial meeting is usually free, but if it’s not, remember this: if your problem was worth taking to a lawyer, it’s worth spending the time and money to get the right lawyer to handle it. Whatever the arrangement, it is a good idea to discuss up front whether the interview is free or not. As they evaluate your case, you get to evaluate them. Some of the factors you should consider are:
- Cost. Can you afford the lawyer? Typical billing arrangements include flat fees, contingent fees, and hourly rates. Don’t be afraid to request a hybrid: a lower hourly rate with a contingency bonus for example. Make sure you understand what is in the fee and what is not. For instance, most fees do not include expenses such as court filing fees and office expenses like postage and faxes. Ask the lawyer for a budget. Although it is impossible to predict the outcome of a case, an experienced lawyer should be able to provide you with a best and worse case scenario and a good guess at where your case falls between the two.
- Competency. Did the lawyer seem to know what you were talking about? Ask about their experience- how long they have been doing this type of law? Ask them to explain to you the law on the subject. If they cannot explain it to you clearly, they probably cannot explain it to a jury either. However, just because a lawyer cannot give you a direct, immediate answer does not mean they are incompetent. All legal problems are unique and require some thought and possibly some research.
- Comfort. Did he or she make you feel comfortable? This is an intangible factor but you’ll know it immediately. Was the receptionist rude? Was parking an ordeal? Was the lawyer’s office a mess?
At this point you have enough information to make up your mind. But remember: you are still the customer. If later you become uncomfortable or dissatisfied, tell them. Give your lawyer a chance to make things right. If you don’t understand what the lawyer is doing or if you feel like nothing is being done, ask. If you don’t like the attorney who is handling your matter, request that someone else in the firm handle it. If you’re still not happy with your first decision, remember you have the freedom to choose a new lawyer.
Selecting a lawyer is an important decision. You should know that when you get sued and don’t yet have a lawyer, you’ve got about thirty days to find one, sign a retainer, give them the facts, and get something filed. If you know you’ll have a problem sooner or later, find a lawyer now. The process will be more relaxed and you will have the time to find the best. Another benefit is that a lawyer who is familiar with you or your business is in a better position to represent you than someone who’s never heard of you. In addition, your lawyer may be able to do some preventative work an avoid a lawsuit all together.
This article is meant as general knowledge and not meant to substitute for legal advice on specific issues. If you have a question, please call Doug McClanahan at 861-0693.