So you have legal matters you need taken care of, and you’re looking for an attorney. But you aren’t sure who to go to. Below are some key points I’ve put together that may help when searching for an attorney. Remember, these are only ways to help during your search, they certainly aren’t guidelines set in stone.
- Do your research.
With so many research tools at our fingertips, go online. Go to the attorney’s website if they have one, and see what kind of law he or she specializes in. If the attorney’s website shows that he or she specializes in bankruptcy, but you need a divorce, you may want to keep looking.
An attorney that specializes in the area of law you need help in, will know more about the different ways you can achieve an end result. For example, I’ve practiced criminal law for almost two years. There are some cases that can be resolved shortly after the arraignment (presentation of the charges). Most people don’t know what kinds of cases these are, and pay attorneys several appearance fees before the case is resolved.
2. Check for disciplinary actions.
This is huge. Before consulting with an attorney, you should check if there are disciplinary actions that the attorney has received. This can be done at the bar association’s website. If the attorney has had a disciplinary action, check what for. For example, if the attorney didn’t file certain documents on time that significantly hindered a case, I’d suggest steering away. Depending on the disciplinary action, it can be a red flag!
3. Meet with the attorney.
The initial consultation is usually free of charge. Some attorneys may charge a small fee. The initial consultation is usually between 15 and 30 minutes. Remember, attorneys get paid by their clients for their time, so if the initial consultation is free of charge, the time is typically more limited. However, you can get a lot of good insight from a short meeting.
You should feel comfortable being around the attorney. You can use common sense here. If you feel like the attorney is like an used car sales man, move on. But if you feel like you can talk comfortably with the attorney, then they might be worth looking into more. Get some insight into their work. Ask questions about their experience, and how they may go about handling your situation. Ask questions about their fees, and know exactly what they will be billing you for. This is so there are no surprises down the line. For example, there are attorneys that bill their clients for every email, text, and phone call that is sent and received. If you are unaware of this billing practice, you’re in for a surprise when you receive the attorney’s invoice. So remember to ask questions!
Also, don’t settle for the very first attorney you meet. You want to meet with a few, and compare each meeting you have.
4. Keep an eye out for the state of the attorney’s office.
When I was in school, I interned for an attorney who had a great majority of the files she worked on all over the floor, surrounding her desk. There were files scattered all over her desk, files not in filing cabinets, but stacked on top of filing cabinets.
If I had an initial consultation with her, my first thought would be that she is unorganized, because of the messiness of her office. This is 100 percent correct. She always misplaced files, and couldn’t find documents. I specifically remember one specific instance when a client came to her office for a scheduled appointment, and she spent over an hour looking for his file. The client went home without meeting with her, because she couldn’t find his file. This is 100 percent unacceptable.
When you meet with the attorney, check their office out. It will tell you a lot about how they will handle your very important documents and possessions.
5. Compare fees.
I’d suggest comparing attorney fees with others in the area. For example, if one attorney charges you 300 dollars for a certain task, and another attorney charges you 2,000 dollars for the same task, you need to find out why there is a significant discrepancy between the fees. This is important, because there are several attorneys out there that function based on volume, not quality of work. This means that there are attorneys that will take hundreds of cases, and charge 300 dollars a case, regardless of the complexity of the case. Be careful in this situation. Remember, attorneys get paid for their time, and 300 dollars isn’t much time in the legal world.
6. Ask others what they think.
For attorneys, reputation is everything. Ask people you may know who have hired that attorney in the past, what they think about him or her. For example, if they say that the attorney never answered or returned their phone calls, keep in mind, that he or she will probably not answer or return your phone calls either.