How to Find a Lawyer
Attorney Barry Scheck
It is important for everyone to understand what their rights are under the law and how to protect those rights. In order to do that properly, you need to find the right lawyer. Most people, at some point, will need legal representation. Sometimes it is with regard to a civil matter: marriage, divorce, family issues, a car accident, or a business or an employment matter. Sometimes it is more serious, a criminal matter.
Whenever we have a legal matter to deal with, it is a stressful time. Undoubtedly, the uncertainty of how things will turn out can be the worst part of it all:
- Am I going to be sued?
- Do I have a case and will I win?
- Am I going to jail or prison?
If it is a criminal matter, the question will arise as to whether to trust a public defender or hire a private attorney. Whatever the matter involves, it is imperative to get proper legal counsel; and, since that is not something we do on a regular basis, we often are not sure of where to turn.
Here are the best ways on how to find the right attorney.
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Use Martindale-Hubbell to find a lawyer
- Official Website
Lawyers Find A Lawyer, Law Firm, Attorney & Legal Services
Use FindLaw to find a lawyer
- Official Website
Find your lawyer with the FindLaw Lawyers Directory, largest attorney directory online. Detailed profiles of local lawyers and law firms to represent you.
Finding a lawyer
Thank goodness for online resources! Before the internet, we were relegated to sifting through ads and listings in the yellow pages or newspapers. While that helped in finding out the name of a lawyer, an address, a telephone number, and type of practice, you had to meet with the attorney to ask the attorney directly additional questions about their background and experience. These are still important topics to discuss but now you can get some of this information before you make that call.
Martindale-Hubbel: This is one of the best ways to start looking for an attorney. The company has published a legal directory for nearly 100 years. Not only can you search for lawyers according to name, firm, practice, and geography, but the directory also provides information about when the lawyer was admitted to the state bar, what law school the attorney attended, and provides a ranking for its listed attorneys. Some rankings are based on peer review; some are client rated. Clients rate attorneys based on an attorney's communication ability, responsiveness, quality of service, and value for money. The highest ranking is 5.0. Similarly, peer reviews by other lawyers, members of the bar, and the judiciary evaluate a lawyer's high ethical standards and professional ability:
- AV Preeminent® (4.5-5.0) - AV Preeminent® is a significant rating accomplishment - a testament to the fact that a lawyer's peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.
- BV Distinguished® (3.0-4.4) - BV Distinguished® is an excellent rating for a lawyer with some experience. A widely respected mark of achievement, it differentiates a lawyer from his or her competition.
- Rated (1.0-2.9) - The Peer Review Rated designation demonstrates that the lawyer has met the very high criteria of General Ethical Standing.
The State Bar Association: Every state has a bar association. That is because lawyers are required to be licensed in whichever state they want to practice. The state bar association provides a listing of all attorneys who are licensed to practice in the state. More importantly, there is valuable information to gain from the state bar about a particular attorney including:
- License information
- Practice information
- Services provided
- Courts of admittance
- Other state licenses
- Public disciplinary history
Findlaw.com: The search engine on Findlaw.com can be used to find an attorney by name, practice, and geography. Although there is no ranking information available, this resource provides some additional information on attorneys including:
- Recent honors
- Classes and seminars presented by the attorney or firm
- Published articles
Check off the four "C's" before deciding on a lawyer.
Clearly, it is easy to find an attorney. However, you do not want just any attorney. You want the right attorney: the one that will be right for you and your legal matter. Here are the four "C's" you need to consider before you make your final decision on hiring a lawyer:
- Comfort: You have to meet with the attorney. There is no way around this. The attorney wants to know what he or she is dealing with and whether or not there is a case. And while it's important for the attorney to feel comfortable in representing you as a client, you should feel just as comfortable, if not more so, because you are turning over a very important aspect of your life over to someone else. Make sure that you feel comfortable sharing personal information with an attorney that seems interested in helping you solve your legal problems.
- Credentials: Find out where the attorney went to law school, how long the attorney has been in practice, and whether the attorney has worked on cases like yours. Don't be afraid to ask about the lawyer's success rate but understand that there is no way that a lawyer can guarantee you a particular result.
- Cost: Ask about whether there is an hourly or flat fee. Determine whether your case can be worked out on a contingency fee basis (a fee based on a percentage of recovery). Some types of cases cannot be on a contingency fee basis according to bar regulations including criminal defense and family law cases. Ask the lawyer if he or she can estimate the cost of your case.
- Convenience: Find a lawyer that is located near you. Undoubtedly, during your legal representation your lawyer will need to communicate with you by phone, by mail, and in person. Try to avoid hiring an attorney that is outside your city or county. You don't need the attorney to incur additional expenses for you like long distance calls, travel expenses, or unnecessary expedited mail services.
Right to Counsel: Constitution of the U.S. - Amendment VI
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."
Public Defender Judy Clarke
Why do I need to hire a lawyer; I should get a free one.
Here's the deal: whether you pay out of your pocket or whether the court appoints an attorney for you or whether you are lucky enough to find an attorney who is willing to take on your case pro bono (without a fee), you are still hiring an attorney. The attorney still represents you. All of the aforementioned steps are necessary. And whatever you do, do not accept legal counsel just on the premise that it will be "free." There is something to the old adage, "you get what you pay for."
Public defenders, legal aid societies, and court-appointed attorneys are commonly overwhelmed by their caseloads. That is not to say that these attorneys cannot or will not represent you properly, it just means that their time and availability is limited.
The only explicit right you have to an attorney is under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in criminal matters. If you want a divorce, need to sue someone because you suffered personal injury or pain and suffering, want to file bankruptcy, have a problem with your landlord, or need documents drafted to incorporate your business, you are not entitled to a "free attorney."
The good news is that no matter what your legal problems are, most attorneys are willing to give you a free consultation. In that consult, you will learn whether or not you have a case, what the lawyer can do for you, get legal advice, and learn about your legal rights. Then you can decide on the best way to proceed.
Learn more about The Innocence Project.
- Official Website
The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
By Liza Lugo, J.D.
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Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be used or interpreted as legal advice. If you have a legal issue, seek out the services of a licensed attorney.
Originally written and published on January 15, 2015. Latest corrections and edits made on February 23, 2015.