Hiring a lawyer is stressful. Here are 10 questions you should ask to help you find, hire, manage and, if need be, fire your construction attorney.
First - Are you qualified to handle my case?
Is the attorney you are hiring qualified to handle your case? How do you know? Well the first thing you should do is put their name into Google. Do they have articles written on the topic you are expecting them to work in? Are they Board Certified in the area of practice that your case involves? Go the The Florida Bar website, look up their disciplinary history - is there any?
Second - How will you be paid?
How is your construction lawyer going to be paid? Hourly, contingent, some type of success bonus with a lower hourly rate? You need to have that conversation early on so there are no surprises.
Third - Who in your office will handle my case?
Have a conversation very early on with the attorney as to who is going to do the work on the file. Is it going to be the attorney that you met with? Is it going to be one of his partners, or associates? It's critical that you have an understanding of who is going to be working on the file because the relationship with an attorney is very personal and you want to make sure that the attorney performing the work is up to your standards.
Fourth - Are your fees negotiable?
If your arrangement with your attorney is hourly - what are the fees? Don't believe that the first number out of your attorney's mouth is the last one he'll take. Be willing to negotiate.
Fifth - What costs will I incur to prosecute my case?
Costs can add up in a legal case: copies, scanning, transcripts, court reporters, expert witnesses, just to name a few. You need to have a clear understanding of the costs, not the fees, that are associated with prosecuting or defending your case.
Sixth - What information is on your bill?
Bills from your attorney can be very difficult to understand. When you get a bill, if you don't understand it, call and ask about it. Ask for specific formats or information to be included in the bill. Some of the information you should expect to see on a bill would include: a description of the task performed, the date that task was performed, the time associated with that task, and the cost for that task.
Seventh - What if I have a question about my bill?
Some clients incorrectly believe that by asking too many questions of their attorney about their bill, that the attorney will handle their case less appropriately. Nothing could be further from the truth. If your attorney knows that you are reading his or her bills, they will be much more diligent in making sure that when they review the bill before it comes to you, all of the time is accurate.
Eight - Do you have malpractice insurance?
A critical question you need to ask your attorney at the time you hire them is do they have insurance. If something goes wrong in your case, and it's the attorney's fault, who's going to pay? If the attorney doesn't have malpractice insurance, it may be very difficult to obtain recovery from them if they are the ones that made the mistake.
Ninth - Will you represent me well?
As I said before, the relationship between you and your attorney is very personal. Because of that, you need to make sure that the attorney you select properly represents you both in the court and outside of the court.
Tenth - Should I keep copies of the records I send you?
Finally, if it gets to the point where you need to make a change in legal counsel, how do you do it? First, you need to inform your attorney that you are unhappy with their services and that you are going to be transferring the files to another lawyer. More importantly, you need to be sure that you have copies of all of the records that you gave your attorney. Attorneys have a right to assert what is called a charging and retaining lien. As a result, if you don't pay your lawyer, they may not need to give you the file back. If you keep copies of those records, then the retaining lien that your attorney filed may have very little weight.