How to Choose an Attorney
There are two general reasons why people hire attorneys - 1) to avoid legal problems in the future or 2) to help with a legal problem that has arisen. No lawyer can handle every thing that comes into the office, at least not very competently. Choose your lawyer wisely!
Hire the right attorney who can handle your legal matter capablyHas your longtime attorney retired from practice, died or left town? Or have you never needed to hire an attorney?
Legal matters are important. People go to lawyers for two basic reasons. They either 1) want to do some legal planning regarding their personal or business affairs or go through a legal process of some sort, or 2) they have a serious legal problem that they need help with.
It’s a mistake to believe that every lawyer handles all types of matters. Some criminal lawyers only handle felonies. Others only handle misdemeanors. Real estate matters can be simple or they can be complex. Most lawyers have probably never handled a foreclosure. Many have never written a farm lease.
Believe it or not, many lawyers never get involved in litigation (court matters). Others do nothing but litigation. Litigation attorneys learn over time how judges and opposing counsel deal with issues. That is invaluable to someone involved in a divorce, a criminal matter or a lawsuit over a contract.
What’s the best way to go about hiring a suitable attorney to assist with your legal matters?
Experience and the wisdom that comes with it matter a lot when dealing with serious matters. Would you rather go flying in a rented plane with the neighbor who just got his pilot’s license or with the commercial airline pilot down the street who has owned his private plane for fifteen years?
When undergoing knee replacement surgery, would you consider hiring a surgeon who does gall bladder removals, delivers babies and has done the occasional knee replacement? Few lawyers can “do it all”, or would want to.
Finding the best attorneyThe best place to start might be to ask for a recommendation from a lawyer that you know. Asking friends or relatives who have dealt with legal matters similar to yours can be helpful. Often phone book ads or websites describe the types of legal work a lawyer handles, but sometimes that’s not a good indicator of the lawyer’s results.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with calling the lawyer you have in mind and asking him or her questions about experience and approaches taken. Busy lawyers who are good at what they do are typically glad to tell callers that they may not be the best lawyer to handle a particular matter.
It’s important that you have good chemistry with your lawyer. Recall that you are the client and the lawyer is being hired to assist you with your legal matter. You are in charge.
Years in practice are sometimes, but not always, a good indicator. Someone who has practiced law for two or three years and claims to have handled hundreds of cases of a particular type may be overstating things. But beware of lawyers who have practiced law for twenty-five years but who have mediocre reputations, don’t routinely update their legal forms and processes and don’t take their continuing legal education duties seriously.
Someone once said that the most expensive thing she ever bought was a cheap lawyer. Attorneys with lots of experience probably charge a higher hourly rate but likely have learned lots of lessons over the years, likely have a smart and efficient staff, are likely to prepare better legal documents and are able to perform the services more efficiently and at less cost than inexperienced attorneys who happen to charge a lower hourly rate.
Keep in mind that lawyers are advocates, but they are also counselors. If you want a lawyer that is simply going to follow your orders, then make sure you get that kind of lawyer. But if you want a lawyer who will share his or her legal experience and advice with you and give you direction in your legal matter, then choose that kind of lawyer.
Beware of lawyers who want to settle matters quickly and are afraid to take matters to a judge when necessary.
Hire a lawyer when dealing with important legal matters. Don’t represent yourself in court (other than in small claims court or traffic court). Don’t download free legal forms “prepared by real lawyers, valid in every state”. You often get what you pay for, and later have bigger problems to deal with.