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Tips on Hiring a Lawyer

Updated on January 7, 2013

Hiring an attorney for even the smallest of tasks can be extremely stressful and time-consuming. There are many factors to consider, but experience and cost are the most important. Hiring a lawyer basically involves a three-step process: find prospective lawyers, attend initial consultations, and make a final selection.

Step 1: Finding Prospective Lawyers

The first thing you must do is find prospective lawyers. There are many ways to find a lawyer, but one of the best ways is to contact your state’s bar association. The state bar has a complete directory of every lawyer in your state. More importantly, the state bar keeps track of all formal complaints and disciplinary actions. You can also conduct a basic web search or look in the Yellowpages.

Next, you should choose at least five prospective lawyers to consider. Much like hiring a contractor to do home repair work, its best to get several “estimates” to compare. Before you contact the lawyers on your list, you should disqualify any attorney who has too many complaints or who has pending disciplinary action with the state bar. You can check the disciplinary status of lawyers in your state by visiting your state’s bar association website. You can also check lawyer review sites such as or for client reviews. However, since such sites allow anyone to post, the reviews may not be entirely credible.

Step 2: Initial Consultations

Once you have checked the disciplinary status of the lawyers on your list, you should contact each lawyer and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your problem. Initial consultations give the client an opportunity to state their case and to ask questions about the lawyer’s experience, costs, and fees. The best practice is to come prepared with a list of questions. It is also recommended that you take notes during the consult. The notes you take are essentially “estimates” which can be used to compare each lawyer. Some of the most important to questions to ask during an initial consultation include:

  • What experience do you have handling cases like mine?
  • When was the last time you handled a case like mine?
  • What was the outcome in the cases you handled?
  • What possible results can I expect?

Hourly Fee

For hourly fees you should ask questions such as:

  • How often will I be billed?
  • How long will I have to pay a bill?
  • Does the bill include an itemized list of fees or will it be more general in nature?
  • Is there a retainer fee? If so, how does it work?
  • Will I be billed for work done by others?
  • Do you charge interest?

Contingent Fee

For contingent fees you should ask questions such as:

  • What percentage will I be charged?
  • How is the percentage calculated?
  • Will you cover the cost or do you only advance the costs for repayment at a later date?
  • What happens if I lose the case?
  • Are you entitled to any fees if one of us withdraws from the case?

  • Do you carry professional liability insurance? Professional liability insurance covers malpractice claims filed by clients. Lawyers are not required by law to have liability insurance, so there is no need to disqualify an attorney simply because they are uninsured. However, it may bring you peace of mind to know that the lawyer is covered.
  • What types of costs will I be required to pay? (exs. copies, faxes, electronic researching, court filing fees, travel costs, phone calls, ect.)
  • May I reserve the right to require approval of costs exceeding a specified amount?
  • How will I be charged? There three most common types of fee arrangements are hourly charges, contingent fees, or flat fees.

Step 3: Making a Final Selection

The last step is making a final selection. You should base your decision on the notes you took during the consultations. The ultimate goal is choose the person who can best meet your needs without exceeding your budget. In most cases, you will be required to sign a service agreement. This is basically a contract for legal services made between you and the lawyer. It should set forth the details of your arrangement including things such as the fees, costs, cost approval provisions (if applicable), decision-making rights (who gets to make decisions about the case), and lawyer withdrawal rights (under what circumstances can the lawyer withdraw).

Never sign an agreement or contract without reading it in its entirety. This is one of the most common mistakes made by clients. Be sure to pay close attention to the provisions that deal with fees, costs, and lawyer liability. Do not gloss over anything. If anything is unclear you should ask for clarification before signing.


The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this or associated pages, comments, answers, or other communications should be taken as legal advice. The information provided is not intended to create, and viewing of this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.


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