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
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
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
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
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
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.