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How to find the right lawyer

Updated on February 20, 2010

Why listen to me?

Why should you listen to my advice on how to find the right lawyer? Let me start out by saying I am not currently a practicing attorney so I am not going to conclude this by saying "Call the law offices of...". I was, however, a practicing attorney for about ten years until I had my daughter year and a half ago. I know what it's like trying to find the right lawyer - it's a daunting process under the best of circumstances. It is even more difficult if the reason you need a lawyer involves emotions - as it often does. So here are some tips to help you find the right lawyer for your specific needs.

1. Ask for a referral from friends or family.

All the advertising in the world isn't worth as much as a personal referral. If you have someone whose judgment you trust, ask them if they have used an attorney in the past for the same type of legal issue you have. Get as many referrals as you can and start calling them for a consultation. Finding the right lawyer can be that easy -sometimes!

2. Call your local Bar Association for a referral

Local Bar Associations can be a great source for referrals. They should have a list of attorneys in your area that practice the type of law you are looking for. They should also be able to provide you with information regarding the length of time the attorney has been practicing, the size of the practice, languages spoken and other helpful information.

3. Search online

While I don't recommend this as your only source for information, it can be a great source nonetheless. Most attorneys are now on the Internet in one form or the other. Some advertise extensively, while others just have a simple web page. Either way, you can get lots of basic information about an attorney online. Their web page should tell you what areas they practice in and may give you an idea of what their services will cost. Many web sites even offer you the option of speaking to someone immediately.

4. Make sure they practice the type of law you need

Many attorneys say that they are a "general practitioner". While this may be true in a loose sense of the word, the reality is that attorneys specialize. Some states allow you to formally say you are a specialist in an area of the law while others do not. Either way, we do specialize. For instance, a criminal attorney is unlikely to also do much work in estate law. Likewise, a copyright attorney is probably not also handling custody cases. Ask the attorney what percentage of their practice is devoted to the type of law that you are inquiring about.

5. Ask about their experience

Ask them how many years they have been practicing. If you are looking for a criminal lawyer, ask them how many jury trials they have handled or how many murder cases they have handled for instance. If you are looking for a divorce attorney, ask them how many custody cases they have won. These questions are completely valid inquiries and an attorney should not be offended by them.

6. Ask about their fees and billing practices

I can't stress enough that you need to have a clear understanding, upfront, about the fees and payment arrangements. Most attorneys will have you sign a retainer agreement (basically a contract that outlines the fees, expenses and payment arrangements). Make sure you read this! Criminal and civil attorneys frequently handle payments differently. A civil attorney may require a retainer. This is money that they will deposit into an account and bill against on an hourly basis. On the other hand, many criminal attorneys charge a flat fee. This is a total amount that you will be charged for the entire case. Some attorneys make you pay it all up front, others accept payments. The difference is that you know up front what the total fee will be as opposed to being billed by the hour. These practices may differ from state to state, but the important thing is to have a clear understanding up front of how you are being charged and how payment is expected to be made.

7. Come prepared to the consultation

Just as their billing and fees practices vary, attorneys vary as to whether they charge for consultations or not. Regardless of whether they charge or not, once you have narrowed the field down and made appointments for consultations you need to prepare for the appointment. Put your questions down in writing so you don't forget any. Plan on spending about 30 minutes with the attorney so get to the point as quickly as possible. If you are paying for the consultation, you certainly don't want to pay for wasted time. If the consultation is free, I guarantee you it won't last forever! Be prepared and make the time you have count.

After all of this, hopefully you have reached a well thought out an researched decision on who to hire.  Good luck!


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    • leigia67 profile image

      leigia67 8 years ago

      Natasha - More great advice...I mainly practiced criminal defense, but have heard horror stories as well of people that tried the "do-it-yourself" approach. I may add a section addressing that - thanks!

    • profile image

      Natasha Hazlett 8 years ago

      That is some great advice. I am a lawyer and I whole-heartedly agree with everything you said. Also, I would suggest that people be very wary of the "cheapest" in town... in many situations, cheapest is all relative. Finally, steer clear of Legal Zoom and other do-it-yourself numbers. They will often cost you far more in the long run (I speak from experience in dealing with estates of folks who tried to "save money" drafting their own will!

    • leigia67 profile image

      leigia67 8 years ago

      No problem Nancy and let me know if you ever need any additional advice :>

    • nancy_30 profile image

      nancy_30 8 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for this great advice. If I need a lawyer in the future I'll remember this.