One of the more difficult things a person or business entity must do when confronted with a legal problem is choose a lawyer to represent them. But this can be a critical decision because of the choice of lawyer often can be the most important factor in reaching a favorable resolution of the client’s legal problem.
To find a good lawyer, the client should get referrals from family, friends, and business associates, since successful representation of other clients is a strong indicator that the lawyer will be a good fit with the client. The client also can check with the local bar association and legal referral sources (such as lawyer.com). An Internet search can sometimes be useful as well, but more times than not such a search yields dozens of potential lawyers and it can be hard to sort through the mountain of information that can result from an Internet search.
Once the client develops a list of potential lawyers to represent him/her/it, an in-person “interview” is essential. Think about it – a person would not hire an employee without an interview, so how can a client hire a lawyer to handle something as critically important as the client’s legal matter without an in-person meeting?
When the client meets with the lawyer, the client should consider the following:
Comfort Level – Does the lawyer seem compatible with the client on a personal level? Like all people, lawyers come with all types of personalities and social skills. Consider whether the client can communicate well with the lawyer, whether the client will be comfortable telling the lawyer personal information, and whether the client will be comfortable working closely with the lawyer. Perhaps most importantly, does the lawyer convey a sense of empathy, understanding and interest in solving the client’s problem?
Experience and Credentials – The client needs to make sure to learn how long has the lawyer been in practice, both overall and in the jurisdiction where the legal problem exists. For litigation matters, make sure the lawyer practices with frequency in the court and before the judge where the case exists. Ask if the lawyer has worked on other cases similar to the client’s case and get examples of the lawyer’s success (or lack thereof) with such cases.
Cost – The client must have an honest and candid discussion with the lawyer about cost and get a good estimate of the likely cost to resolve the client’s legal matter. It doesn’t do the client any good to hire an expensive lawyer that the client cannot afford, and then have to change lawyers later when the client can’t pay the lawyer’s bill.
Location – Consider whether the lawyer’s office is conveniently located for the client and near the court.
Here are some specific questions the client should ask the prospective lawyer:
- How long have you been in practice?
- How many cases like mine have you handled and what were the results?
- How often do you settle cases out of court? How many trials have you done on your own?
- What do you estimate your fees and costs will be to handle my matter? Do I have to pay a retainer?
- Will you do the work on my matter yourself or will other lawyers in your office work on my matter?
- What are the next steps?