On TV, lawyers take on cases that magically appear at the beginning of the show. In the real world, when you need legal help, it’s your responsibility to pick a lawyer, and there are four basic steps that start before you even set foot in a law office.
Finding the right lawyer is like finding the right doctor. Just as there are many different kinds of doctors, who have gone through years of specialized education, lawyers have specialties too. When you look for a doctor, you try to find someone who’s been trained to work on your particular illness. If your son has chicken pox, you look for a pediatrician, not a brain surgeon. Again, it’s the same with lawyers, and that leads to the first step in finding the help you need.
1.) Zero in on your Problem
You’re hiring a lawyer to help solve a problem. The type of legal professional you’re looking for will be based on your issue or situation. For example, an estate planning attorney to write a will, a patent attorney to protect the rights to an invention and a family law attorney would handle marital issues. A general practice lawyer can handle many areas. If they run into anything beyond their depth, they will refer you on to the appropriate specialist. Starting off meeting with the right type of lawyer will save a lot of time and trouble. Knowing how legal costs can build up, you will want to keep from going off in the wrong direction!
2.) Ask Friends and Family
Chances are there are people in your life who are lawyers, or know them. Ask around for names of people that they know and trust. Personal recommendations are always best, but if a friend refers you to a professional they trust, don’t be afraid to follow up that person’s leads. The legal community is very interconnected. People depend on each other to cover the cases in specialties other than their own, and will be able to direct you to an appropriate person. You aren’t, however, ceding responsibility: you’ve got your part to play too.
3.) Do your Homework
Legal representation doesn’t come cheap, so it’s important that you do your research. Determine if the attorney or firm has ever been accused of misconduct or had their license suspended or revoked. If you are being particularly thorough, most county courthouse websites have a function where you can search the civil and criminal law records section by attorney’s name to see information about cases they have handled. Check areas in and around the lawyer’s main location. Next comes taking a closer look.
4.) Meet and Greet
A key to a positive relationship between clients and lawyers is chemistry. The only way you’ll know if you truly feel comfortable with a legal professional is to sit down with them and ask a few questions. Some basics to cover
- How many cases like mine have you handled?
- May I please have a reference from a former client?
- Do you have malpractice insurance?
- How do you charge?
Once you’ve followed these steps with several people, you should be ready to choose between the lawyers you’ve met. TV characters may still have it easier, but with these tips you should feel confident making a selection that’s right for you
The author, Lynne Cunningham, is a specialist who writes many Legal articles. You can find more information at PDC Lawyers, which is recommended for further reading about hiring a lawyer.