Help finding a lawyer

How do you choose a lawyer?

You should choose a lawyer as you would a doctor, dentist, accountant or anyone who provides services. The fact that you are seeking a professional as opposed to a product should make no difference in your approach. Comparison shop. Check the credentials of different attorneys. Discuss fees with them candidly. And, whatever you do, don't forget to talk with them about the wisdom of retaining legal counsel. For example, does it make sense to spend $500 in legal fees and court costs to recover a $100 bad debt.

How do you look for a lawyer? The first and obvious step is to define the nature of your legal problem. You will be wasting your time as well as an attorney's if you bring a simple real estate transaction to a criminal defense specialist.

How do you find a lawyer?

Personal Referral. Most people seeking a lawyer begin by asking advice from a personal acquaintance or someone whose opinion they value, such as their banker, minister, relative, or another lawyer. Other common referral sources are employers, law school teachers and administrators, labor unions, consumer groups, public interest organizations, and women's associations.

Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. You also can find some answers in the public library in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, which for more than 100 years has published as complete a roster as possible of the members of the bar in the United States and Canada. The directory gives brief biological sketches of many lawyers and describes the legal areas in which law firms practice.

Lawyer Referral Service. Most bar associations in larger cities have a Lawyer Referral and Information Service that can refer you to competent and reliable lawyers. Although the name is not Lawyer Referral Services (LRS) in all communities, you usually can find a bar-sponsored lawyer referral service in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory under "attorneys." Under a LRS plan a lawyer will consult with you on a legal problem for a half hour either without charge or for a prescribed and nominal fee you both agree upon. If he or she cannot handle your problem, you will be referred to another attorney who can.

Advertising. From 1908 to 1977 lawyers were forbidden to advertise their services. This prohibition came about through fear of "puffery" and the belief that even the best executed advertising could be unintentionally false, misleading or deceptive because of the complex nature of legal services.

A 1977 ruling of the United States Supreme Court (Bates v. State Bar of Arizona) changed the rules to a degree. Lawyers are now permitted to advertise certain information in newspapers, Yellow Pages, and on radio and television.

You can follow certain steps when you contact a lawyer whose advertisement you read or heard.

Don't take the ad literally; ask the lawyer for references and check his or her experience with your type of case.

Ask the lawyer about the services advertised and what they include, for example, a "simple will," or a "simple divorce."

Don't hesitate to discuss fees, what services they cover, and whether there will be any extra charges.

Finally, keep a copy of the ad so that you can check to see whether the lawyer is performing as advertised.

Are there other resources?

Legal Clinics. In some communities there are "legal clinics." These clinics are designed to assist you with relatively simple matters - such as a routine will or an uncontested divorce - often at lower than average rates. They are able to charge less by working on a volume basis with paralegal assistance to perform routine, but important services.

Legal Aid and Defender Offices. In numerous cities Legal Aid and Defender offices assist without cost, or at a nominal fee, persons who cannot pay a lawyer. Advice is given by Legal Aid in three main areas of legal work: small money claims for wages; disputes between the client and a lender, installment seller or landlord; and domestic relations matters. Defender offices handle criminal cases.

Small Claims Court. These courts, called the "people's courts," offer citizens the chance to resolve minor disputes without the need for lawyers.

Also called "conciliation court" or "magistrate's court" in some cities and states, most small claims courts limit their cases to those involving claims up to $500. A few courts will hear disputes that involve as much as $5000. Mississippi's Justice Courts hear cases that involve up to $2,500.

In most small claims courts, anyone with a grievance can bring suit for a filing cost of a few dollars. However, you should file suit only after you have exhausted other avenues for redress, for example, writing directly to the person or company involved in your complaint or discussing the matter with the Better Business Bureau.

The small claims court is listed in the telephone book under city or county court listings. You can call and ask the county clerk for instructions about filing your claims; or, call your city or county bar association.

What kind of lawyer?

General practice lawyers handle a wide variety of legal problems. When problems are beyond their competence, they will refer you to a specialist.
Interviewing the lawyer.  

There is no single way to find a lawyer that is right for you and your case. One way to start the process is to call several lawyers to whom you have been referred. Some lawyers offer free consultations. You may be able to set up an initial consultation on the telephone. This helps you get an initial feel about the lawyer. The lawyer, in turn, will likely have a few questions for you to help the lawyer identify potential conflicts with an existing matter or client. It also helps the lawyer gauge whether the lawyer is competent to handle your matter.

You may be able to ask each lawyer some preliminary questions before you commit yourself to a formal, in-person interview. Ideally, the answers you get will help you screen out a few lawyers to interview. To help you choose a lawyer, it might also be a good idea to write down any answers you get. You can compare the answers to help you choose one or more lawyers to interview.
Some initial questions you might ask include:

Does the lawyer provide a free consultation? If the lawyer charges for an initial interview, how much does it cost? How long is the initial interview or consultation?

What type of fee arrangement does the lawyer require? Can you negotiate the fees? Additional info

Has the lawyer handled similar cases? What percentage of the lawyer's cases are similar to yours?

How long has the lawyer been in practice? Where is the lawyer licensed to practice? Has the lawyer been investigated or disciplined before by state licensing authorities? If so, for what?

When was the last time the lawyer handled a similar case?

Can the lawyer provide references to other clients?

If the lawyer cannot handle your case, can the lawyer provide references to other lawyers?

What type of information should you bring to a meeting with the lawyer?

What is the range of possible outcomes, including rough estimates of time and cost? Based on your brief description of the problem, your lawyer may be able to provide some general estimates.

Will the lawyer handle the case or will others work on it also?

What type of caseload does the lawyer currently have? What is the scope of the lawyer's existing commitments? Will the lawyer have sufficient time to devote to your case?

If you are able to narrow down your choices, you should be able to make an appointment with a lawyer to discuss the case in detail. During the initial interview you will likely be asked about the specifics of your case. In order to prepare for the meeting, you should gather all the information (documents, contact information) pertinent too your situation. You will want to bring those materials, along with a set of questions about the legal relationship you may have to the meeting.




Copyright 2003-07 Paul E. Rogers, P.A.

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