You Need a Lawyer… Now What?

You have a legal problem and have determined you need the expertise of a lawyer, but how do you go about finding a good lawyer? It is important to know that much like finding a great doctor, accountant, or mechanic finding the right lawyer is a process and will require that you take the time to “comparison shop“. That said, it does not need to be a daunting task if you consider the following steps and advice.

Step One: Define the nature of your legal issue.

Taking the time to define your legal problem in the beginning will save you time and energy in the end. An obvious consideration is to determine the type of lawyer you need. While many lawyers are general practitioners, there are many who concentrate on specific areas of law. The practice of law is very broad, so if you are unsure of the specific area of law your issue falls into it may be best to look for lawyers who are general practitioners or practice in many different areas of law. You do not want to spend time searching for a lawyer who deals primarily with family law when you really need a lawyer who focuses on criminal defense.

Step Two: Finding a lawyer.

Once you have determined what type of attorney you need to handle your legal matter, you can begin searching for the right lawyer for you. There are several sources you can use to find recommendations on lawyers. These recommendations will help you to limit a vast number of lawyers down to a more manageable list.

Personal Referrals: Much like you would ask a friend to refer a doctor; reliable friends are also great resources for referring a lawyer. Ask friends who have experienced the same legal issue you face for their recommendations. Even if they do not have a suggestion, they may know someone who might. It is essential to keep in mind that while a lawyer may have been perfect for one person, he or she may not be a good fit for another individual; therefore, ask several sources in order to have options.

Lawyer Referral Services: You can look in your local phone book or use your favorite internet search engine for lawyer referral services in your area. These services must be approved by the state bar association; however, do your research to discover how each service screens its attorneys. While some referral services are stringent in their screenings and take into account particular qualifications such as past experience, other services only require a lawyer be in good standing with the bar association and carry liability insurance. Finding a referral service that has tougher screening practices is ideal.

Lawyer Directories: There are multiple law directories that can be found on-line that allow you to search for a lawyer using specific search criteria, such as by legal issue or by geographical location. These directories typically provide profiles for each attorney with information such as the lawyer’s experience, credentials, philosophy, and fees. Before using a directory, make sure to review the credentials of the directory itself. The directory should be sponsored by a reputable source.

Non Profits: Look for a non-profit group that focuses on the subject matter of your legal problem. While they may not be able to endorse or recommend a specific attorney, they should know lawyers who practice in the issue and have handled similar cases.

On-line and Advertising: Most lawyers and law firms maintain a website. Often, their websites will help you gain insight into their practice areas, overall philosophy and if they have had experience in cases similar to yours. You can also look in your local yellow pages for lawyers as this will give you a starting point that you can back up by further research. Lawyers also advertise on television and in newspapers and, once again, it would be in your best interest to research the lawyer to find out additional information regarding their expertise and reputation.

Step Three: Interviewing Prospective Lawyers

Once you have created your list of possible lawyers from referrals and research, it is now time to meet with these lawyers. Many attorneys will provide a free initial consultation; however, if they do not, make sure to find out how much the consultation will cost and how long it will be. The consultation is your opportunity to learn additional information about him or her and if the lawyer is the best fit for your case and a good fit for you. Prepare a list of questions prior to the meeting. Remember that you are the interviewer and it is important to ask the lawyer multiple questions to ensure you can make the most informed decision. Potential questions to ask are:
Ÿ         How long has the lawyer been in practice?
Ÿ         Has the lawyer handled cases similar to yours? If so, how many?
Ÿ         What are the lawyer fees and are these fees negotiable?
Ÿ         Can the lawyer provide references to other clients with similar cases and the cases outcome?

During your meeting, pay particular attention to your comfort level with the individual. If you do not feel comfortable with them, you will be less likely to be open and honest about every aspect of your case leaving your lawyer less able to effectively help you. Bring all of the information regarding your issue to the meeting as well, as the lawyer will need to determine if he or she is able to handle your case. If not, the lawyer should be able to refer you to a lawyer who can. Interview several potential attorneys before committing to one as this will allow you to compare the lawyers and find the one that is perfect for you.

Choosing a lawyer is a very important decision that could affect the outcome of your case or issue. As with any important decision, it is always recommended to take the time necessary to research and arm yourself with the right tools to make the best decision for you. Best of luck in your search for not just any lawyer, but your lawyer!

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