Finding a legal professional to take care of your private and sometimes emotional matters can be a daunting task. It seems that at the time we most need an attorney we are least likely to be in the frame of mind to look for one. So, how should you sort through the mix of recommendations and names set before you when the situation presents itself and you must decide upon legal representation for one reason or another?
Research. Research. Research. Is the attorney you are considering in good standing before the State bar of whichever state you require representation? Has he or she been sanctioned or reprimanded for ethical or other violations? This information is generally public record on your state's board of professional responsibility or state bar association website. Is he or she embroiled in any legal issues of his or her own that may affect or complicate their ability to represent you? Sometimes simply googling the individual will reveal more than you know.
References. Talk with former and/or current clients of the prospective lawyer to determine if they have had a good experience. Does the individual return calls promptly? Is the attorney someone they would use again? Did they feel the fee the attorney charged was commensurate with the services rendered? If applicable, was the outcome favorable?
Cost. What and how does the attorney charge fees? One of the most important considerations in deciding on legal counsel is the cost of the attorney's services. Attorney's fees can be very expensive and can add up quickly in lengthy and complex legal issues. Depending on your type of legal issue, an attorney may charge a flat fee, a retainer fee paid up front from which future billing is drawn, a straight hourly fee, or a contingency fee which is when the attorney is paid a percentage of what you recover from your case. With a contingency fee, if you recover nothing, the attorney does not get a fee. Keep in mind that even if you do not recover, you would still be responsible for costs other than attorney fees such as court costs or other costs associated with your legal issue.
Expertise. Does the attorney you are considering focus his or her practice in the area of law you are seeking? Attorneys can advertise that they work in certain areas of the law but may not have worked many cases in that specific area of the law. For example, if you are considering hiring a lawyer to handle a car accident case for you, ask him or her how many other car accident cases he or she has handled. Ask how many of those cases were decided in favor of the attorney's client. You may know an attorney who has been in practice for decades and who advertises that he or she does work in wills and estate matters as well as personal injury. But find out how many wills they have drafted. Do they simply dabble from time to time in that area or is it a true area of their practice? Most attorneys have a couple of areas in which they focus their practice. They may, from time to time, handle a legal matter outside of those areas. So make sure you are getting someone who knows the area of the law and is up to date on the most current laws.
Appeals. If you are seeking an attorney for any legal issue that involves a court proceeding, then there is always the possibility of an appeal. Inquire about the likelihood of appeal in your particular matter. Ask if this attorney handles appeals as not all attorneys do. If the attorney does handle appeals, ask about the different costs associate with an appeal. Ask about the timeline of an appeal. If you are looking for an attorney to handle a legal matter that could potentially be brought up on appeal, better to have that same individual working the case from the beginning until the end than have a new lawyer take over in the middle. These consideration on the front end will save you time, money and frustration down the road.
When you choose an attorney you are making an investment, not only financially but an investment of your time. You should be well informed and use all the resources available to you when you make this important decision.