At some point in time, everyone is going to need a lawyer. Whether you are buying a home, have been injured in an accident, hurt on the job, are evicting a tenant, need a will or, God forbid, are in trouble with the law, the time will eventually come. The question you will then face is how do you choose the right lawyer for you? This may seem like a difficult dilemma, as there are as many lawyers out there as there are areas of law. But following a few key steps will help in the selection process.
First, you need to get a few attorney names. The best source at this point is to turn to people you trust, such as family, friends, co-workers and others you know who have faced the same issues you are now. Ask for referrals to attorneys they know and have used in the past with success.
Once you have a couple of names, make appointments with these attorneys and let the interview process begin. Most lawyers do not charge a fee for an initial consultation, so take this as an opportunity to get to know them and what they can do to help you. We, as attorneys, know that not only are we interviewing you as a possible client, but that we are being interviewed as well.
As you meet with your prospective lawyer, there are a number of questions you need to ask to determine if this relationship is a good fit and their legal abilities, including how long this attorney has been in practice, the experience and expertise he has in your specific area of need and the number of times he has handled similar cases. Additionally, if the matter is adversarial, don’t be afraid to ask the attorney his record of success in this type of case. After all, you want to win your case and you want someone with the track record to make this happen.
Next, ask if the attorney is fully insured and in good standing with your state’s bar association. If there is any question, you can always contact the bar association to be sure he or she is fully licensed, as well as if he or she has any disciplinary actions pending or any past ethical violations. This profession is policed pretty well, so if there are any issues against this lawyer, they can be easily found.
During your interview, look around his or her office. Is it neat and clean? Well-organized? Professional? All of these can be keys to the way the attorney practices law. Your case deserves skill and care, and in most instances, organized attorneys make better attorneys.
Next, be sure to discuss the attorney’s fee structure and how you will be charged. Will it be a flat fee, an hourly fee or a percentage of the value of the case? Will you be billed monthly or at the end of the case? What are the court costs involved? Getting these issues clear at the outset of the representation will avoid problems later.
Finally, communication needs to be discussed. Is the attorney open to phone calls from you to get updates on your case? Will the attorney be the main point of contact, or will you be mostly speaking with an assistant or paralegal? Nothing can be more frustrating and poison the relationship as not being able to get a return phone call from your lawyer when you are nervous about your case.
As you can see, quite a lot goes into choosing the right lawyer for you and your case. Asking the above questions will help you obtain the right representation with an attorney who shares your goals and with whom you have good chemistry. And, don’t be afraid to take some time to think it over and shop around. We won’t be offended.
Marc Page is an attorney with a general law practice in downtown Westerly. He is licensed in Rhode Island and Connecticut and can be reached at 401-596-1726.