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Is it bad to use a general practice attorney?

Aliso Viejo, CA |

I am looking for an attorney and the most reasonable cost is one I consider a general practicioner? Would it be better to pay for one that specializes? Is there a consensus or general belief about attorneys that have more than one specialty?

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I hope not because in "shorthand" I refer to myself as "outside""general counsel".
You have not specified the subject matter. Some need specialists, such as tax. Some benefit from California Certified Specialists, such as family law. But some attorneys have significant experience in areas where California does not certify specialists. There is no general rule, but if you find an attorney of integrity he or she will disclose if they do not feel completely competent to handle your matter with complete professionalism. Finally, cost does not always correlate to quality. Cost varies by geographic location, length of practice, complexity of the matter, and occasionally the ego of the attorney. Many attorneys also have a different fee scale for different matters they handle and different clients.

The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advise" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.


I am an attorney who only practices in one area (labor and employment), so my answer may be viewed with that in mind.

It depends greatly on the legal issue and the background of the general practice attorney. The more complicated your legal issue is, the more that is at stake, the more likely you need an attorney with considerable expertise in that area. For example, if you have a criminal law issue and the general practice attorney only has a background in civil law, you probably shouldn't use the general practice attorney. If your case has a value of $1,000, you might not care that much if you end up losing (though you might not be aware of any other consequences that can flow from losing the case).

Attorneys are like doctors. We have certain areas we know and other areas we do not, no matter how diverse our client base is. If I had sudden blurred vision, I would not go to a foot doctor. And I wouldn't want a brain surgeon to deliver my baby.

If you want a visual representation of how complicated law is, go over to a county law library. These libraries are open to the public. Just walk around and see how much there is, then ask yourself if any one attorney could know all that.

Personally, I would not go to a general practice attorney if I had any other option. Doing so can save you money now, but cost you big time in the long run.

*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***


No, but it really depends upon the subject matter of your inquiry and the complexity of the case.

It is not bad to use a general practice attorney for some simple matters, but in this modern day and age, you need to hire an attorney with substantial experience in the area of law that you seek legal assistance.

An experienced attorney with more than 20 years of practice can certainly have more than one area of focus/specialty. Often times, a litigation matter or a transaction requires interdisciplinary skills.

The State Bar of California has the country's first legal certification program, which offers attorneys the opportunity to demonstrate high competence through evaluations by a panel of experts in one of 11 areas of law practice and in 11 additional areas through certifying partners.

The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author (who is only admitted to practice law in the State of California). For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.


It depends on what your situation is. Can just about any attorney with a modicum of experience write a scathing letter on your behalf? Probably. But what if that letter doesn't accomplish the desired result? Can that attorney back it up and actually initiate legal proceedings?

Similarly, would you want an attorney that only dabbles in the type of law that your situation involves? Compare it to any other professional service, like a physician. Yes, they all graduated medical school and are doctors, but does that mean you want a podiatrist to do your brain surgery?

Same thing for many fields of law. Can somebody be good at several fields? I suppose. Would a person gain a greater level of expertise by only handling one type of case consistently? Makes sense. That person who focuses on one field also would (you hope) stay up on changes in the law more than a person who dabbles.


I disagree with co-counsel here. You are looking for an attorney, but you have not said why. Just as in the medical field, where your first stop may be with a general practice medical doctor, your first attorney may well be a general practitioner. This attorney likely has a broad range of knowledge and will recognize when you need more expertise in certain areas, and make the appropriate referrals. You need a competent assessment before you are directed to a specialist.

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