Hiring the Right Attorney

FAQ’s on Hiring the Right Lawyer

When you are considering taking legal action, it’s important to hire the right attorney for you.  It is important to have an attorney you trust, and one that can provide you the services you need.  The following are some answers to common questions my clients have when hiring a lawyer.

How do I find an attorney?

Searching online for an attorney is one method of finding the right attorney, but choosing an attorney solely on the basis of an advertisement is not always the best idea. Talk to friends, family members, colleagues and your network contacts. They oftentimes have positive or negative experience with specific attorneys that can help refine your search or point you in the right direction. Check online reviews (such as avvo.com), but be aware that one person’s experience does not guarantee a similar experience.

What things should I be looking for when I hire an attorney?

Consider your needs. You likely want an attorney with experience area of law in your case.  While you may be able to save some money by hiring a less experienced attorney, it may cost you in the end because the less experienced attorney may take more time to do the work, or may make potentially costly mistakes.

Also consider what you are trying to accomplish.  Do you just want advice, or are you already involved in a lawsuit?  Do you want your attorney to be aggressive, or use other tools to resolve your matter? Do you need someone to take the case on a contingency basis or can you afford to pay legal fees? Being clear about what you want will help you find the right lawyer for you.

How many attorneys should I talk to before I make a decision?

That’s going to depend on what you are looking for, and how quickly it takes for you to find the right attorney for you.  You may have a good feeling about the first attorney you meet, or you may need to continue searching for an attorney that fits the qualifications you are looking for.  If you meet with an attorney, even if it’s not one you are going to hire, ask for referrals to other attorneys.  A responsible lawyer will want you to find the right attorney, even if that’s not the attorney you are currently talking to.

Will I have to give my name and the name of the other side? 

Yes.  Attorneys represent a number of clients, and are required to maintain a list of everyone they have represented so they can make sure there is no conflict of interest.  It’s better to find out if there is a conflict of interest early, and the only way to do that is to provide the attorney with the names of any interested parties.

Can I just prepare a written summary and email that to a bunch of attorneys to see who is interested in my case?

I recommend against it.  Although it may be quicker to send out a mass email to several attorneys at once, you don’t know whether the attorney you are sending your summary to will have a conflict.  What would happen if you send the email to an attorney that represents the other side?

While drafting up a summary of what happened and gathering the relevant documents is a good thing to do, I would not send that to a prospective attorney unless the attorney has asked for it.  If a firm’s website gives you the ability to send the attorney an email, keep the description short.  Rather than describing your case in detail, let the attorney know you’d like to talk with someone about a wrongful termination, or your unpaid wages, or whatever short description fits your situation.  A reputable firm will usually try to respond within one business day.

Why do some attorneys charge for the initial consultation and others don’t?

Attorneys have a variety of ways of handling initial consultations.  Some, like our firm, use the initial consultation to understand your case, analyze your legal and practical issues, and advise you regarding the various options available to you.  We focus on educating our clients so they can make informed decisions about how to proceed. To do it right, this takes time.  An attorney’s skill is reviewing your matter and analyzing your situation based on the law, and creating a solution to your problems.  Much like a doctor will charge you to examine the mole on the back of your neck to determine how to treat it, an attorney may want to charge you for providing the tools of his/her trade.

Is there anything I should do to prepare for the initial consultation?

Prepare a list of questions and, if practical, a short summary of the information you want the attorney to consider.  Even before you contact the attorney, make a list of questions you want answered. That way the attorney can be sure to answer any questions you might have.

It is also important to be extremely candid with the attorney.  Every case has good facts and bad facts.  Some clients don’t want to tell the attorney all the facts, because they are concerned the attorney will be less interested in the case. If you only tell the attorney the good facts, then the attorney cannot do his/her job.  Imagine asking a doctor to give you advice about your child’s cold, but deciding not to tell the doctor that the child has been vomiting and has a fever of 103. Like your doctor, an attorney can better assist you if you tell the attorney everything.

Remember, everything you tell the attorney is confidential.

How does the attorney get paid?

That depends on your agreement with the attorney.  Attorneys will typically work on an hourly basis, a contingency basis or a flat fee basis.  There are other fee alternatives, but those are the most common.  It’s a good idea to ask the attorney up front about the fees.  Even if an attorney charges for the initial consultation, he/she may be willing to represent you on a contingency or other fee basis.

Once you’ve agreed on a fee structure, get it in writing.  Most attorneys have standard fee agreements they use, although the fee agreements will differ from firm to firm.  Read the entire fee agreement, and ask questions about anything you don’t understand.  It’s the attorney’s job to help you understand your legal questions.  Starting the relationship with questions about how the attorney will be compensated could lead to problems down the road.