If you are looking for a lawyer in the United States, you are in luck; there is certainly no shortage, and your main issue will not be finding one, but finding the right one. The task can seem a bit daunting, but, with a bit of forethought, you can learn what to look for, and make your decision with greater confidence. Here are just a few helpful tips.
Lawyer Referral Services
Lawyer referral services can be a great way to put you in touch with lawyers in your area who handle your particular type of case. But, use them with caution. The requirements for getting listed with a particular service can vary widely—some may have stringent standards regarding experience and other qualifications, while others will let anyone who is in good standing with their bar association, and maintains the required amount of liability insurance. While these two points are important, they are very basic, and do not say much about the experience and competence of the attorney. So, inquire with the service about what they require of lawyers who want to get listed.
Check Out Legal Associations in the Relevant Practice Area
Membership in legal associations demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the particular practice area, and suggests the lawyer is particularly passionate about this field, and has a high level of commitment to his work. If you were looking for an immigration lawyer, for example, it would be a good idea to source potential candidates from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA.) While it is not required a lawyer join an association relevant to his field, those who do so may be more desirable candidates in general.
Consulting with People and Groups Related to the Practice Area in Question
If you are looking for a lawyer for your business needs, your local or state chamber of commerce may be able to make some solid recommendations. Non-profit groups may be able to provide some quality recommendations related to lawsuits in their area of expertise—an environmental group, for example, could probably be very helpful in recommending a lawyer to help you fight the construction of a new housing development, or other projects that may harm the environment. If you are in need of a good family law practitioner for a divorce, or child custody dispute, reaching out to local support groups may help.
Make Sure He Has Extensive Experience with Your Type of Case or Required Service
You will find plenty of general practitioners that do everything from draw up wills to help you file for bankruptcy. Certain legal procedures and services are fairly straightforward, and do not require a great deal of expertise or experience in a particular area. But, for many people, they would be much better off consulting with a lawyer who specializes in the particular area of law relevant to their concern.
If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, a lawyer with extensive business experience will be most useful to you; if you have suffered an injury, and believe you have a legitimate legal claim to financial compensation, you should work with an attorney who specializes in personal injury law. If you are trying to navigate the maze that is trying to apply for Medicare funds for long-term care, or anything else having to do with caring for aged loved ones, you should really be working with a lawyer well-versed in elder law.
Remember that with all these tips, there is one important element that in many ways may be the most important, and that is how you feel about this person. You don’t have to love them—you are not looking for a friend. But, you should feel comfortable with the attorney, and feel like he is listening to your concerns, and willing to answer your questions. Don’t discount gut instincts.
A better approach is to talk to people in your community who have experienced the same problem you face — for example, if you have a claim of sexual harassment, talk to a women’s group. Ask them who their lawyers were and what they think of them. If you talk to half a dozen people who have had a similar legal problem, chances are you’ll come away with several good leads.
But don’t make a decision about a lawyer solely on the basis of someone else’s recommendation. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer’s style and personality; don’t make up your mind about hiring a lawyer until you’ve met the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you feel comfortable working with him or her.
Also, it may be hard to find lawyer through a personal referral with the expertise you need (for instance, if your friend had a great divorce lawyer, but you need incorporation advice, the referral may not do you much good).
Many sites, including Nolo.com, offer a way to connect with local lawyers based on your location and the type of legal case you have. You answer a few questions about your case and your contact information, then the right type of lawyers contact you directly. Talk to a local lawyer.
Nolo’s Lawyer Directory
Nolo offers a unique lawyer directory that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer’s experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer’s general philosophy of practicing law. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association.
Businesses who provide services to key players in the legal area you are interested in may also be able to help you identify lawyers you should consider. For example, if you are interested in small business law, speak to your banker, accountant, insurance agent, and real estate broker. These people come into frequent contact with lawyers who represent business clients and are in a position to make informed judgments.
Consider a Specialist
Most lawyers specialize in certain areas, and even a so-called “general practitioner” may not know that much about the particular area of your concern. For example, of the almost one million lawyers in America today, probably fewer than 50,000 possess sufficient training and experience in small business law to be of real help to an aspiring entrepreneur.
It can pay to work with a lawyer who already knows the field, such as employment discrimination, zoning laws, software design issues, or restaurant licensing. That way you can take advantage of the fact that the lawyer is already far up the learning curve. Sometimes specialists charge a little more, but if their specialized information is truly valuable, it can be money well spent.
Interview the Prospective Lawyers
When you get the names of several good prospects, the next step is to talk to each personally. If you outline your needs in advance, many lawyers will be willing to meet to you for a half-hour or so at no charge so that you can size them up and make an informed decision.
Pay particular attention to the personal chemistry between you and your lawyer. No matter how experienced and well-recommended a lawyer is, if you feel uncomfortable with that person during your first meeting or two, you may never achieve an ideal lawyer-client relationship. Trust your instincts and seek a lawyer whose personality is compatible with your own. Look also for experience, personal rapport, and accessibility.
Communication and Promptness
Ask all prospective lawyers how you will be able to contact them and how long it will take them to return your communications. And don’t assume that because the lawyer seems friendly and easy to talk to that it’s okay to overlook this step.
Unfortunately, the complaint logs of all lawyer regulatory groups indicate that many lawyers are terrible communicators. If every time you have a problem there’s a delay of several days before you can talk to your lawyer on the phone or get an appointment, you’ll lose precious time, not to mention sleep.
Almost nothing is more aggravating to a client than to leave a legal project in a lawyer’s hands and then have weeks or even months go by without anything happening. You want a lawyer who will work hard on your behalf and follow through promptly on all assignments.
Willingness to Work With You
When you have a legal problem, you need legal information. Lawyers, of course, are prime sources of this information, but if you bought all the needed information at their rates — $150 to $450 an hour — you’d quickly empty your bank account. Fortunately, many lawyers will work with you to help you acquire a good working knowledge of the legal principles and procedures you need to deal with your problem at least partly on your own.
If you are hoping to represent yourself and use a lawyer only for advice, make sure the lawyer is open to that type of set-up. Likewise, if you’re going into business and will draft your own bylaws or business agreements, ask the lawyer if she’s open to reviewing your drafts and making comments.