Prospective clients have no shortage of attorneys from which to choose; according to the American Bar Association, there were 1,225,452 licensed attorneys in the United States in 2010. It can be difficult to determine which lawyer is right for your case when sorting through the mountain of legal advertisements on television or in the phone book. Doing so requires a fair amount of research and legwork.
1) Choose the Practice Field
Narrowing down the field should start with the obvious factors: area of practice and location. Attorneys are not general practitioners; while larger firms will have an array of attorneys to handle different types of cases, most individual attorneys have one or two areas of practice. The most experienced personal injury attorney will be of little help in fighting a federal indictment, and vice versa. Litigators vary significantly from transactional attorneys. The case type will determine which type of attorney one needs.
2) Develop a Shortlist
The ideal way to determine which attorneys in your locale are highly skilled in a particular area of practice is to ask other attorneys in the area for references. Attorneys often have the experience necessary to identify many of the other attorneys in the area. However, many clients do not have prior experience with attorneys and have no friends who are attorneys, making references difficult to obtain. A simple Google search will turn up all possibilities near your address, but often, going through a list that large is difficult. Where possible, ask people you know well if they have heard of someone with the experience you need.
3) Check Prior Records
To compile a list of local attorneys who practice in that particular area, consult the state Bar Association, use an online search engine, or compile a list manually from a local phone book. From there, do research on that particular attorney. Look for web sites, affiliations with professional organizations, and the information available on the web site of the Bar Association.
All attorneys are ethically and legally obligated to represent their clients to the best of their interest and apply their experience and judgment to the best of their ability. The Bar Association will have a history of all attorneys’ conduct records, should there be any.
Many attorneys offer free initial consultations. Clients should treat these as interviews. Attorneys will adhere to their client’s wishes and be receptive to their needs, although they may advise against certain courses of action. Whether speaking with a personal injury attorney New York based or a California Compensation firm, it’s important to understand that having a difference of opinion does not mean that the attorney is unwilling or unable to represent the client. Communication is what’s critical.
5) Verify Availability
If jurisdiction was not immediately obvious, ask the attorney during the interview whether jurisdiction will be an issue. Certain cases can be removed to different courts under different circumstances and the attorney must be licensed for the particular court.
6) Define Fee Schedule
The payment structure is also important. Different types of attorneys are paid in different ways; an attorney brokering a deal may want a percentage of the sale, an attorney developing a contract may charge a flat rate, a criminal defense attorney will charge by the hour, and a personal injury attorney will usually demand a percentage of the recovery. Clients should ask about when they will be responsible for certain court costs and discovery fees, if applicable; some attorneys will advance certain costs.
Finding the right attorney requires work and intuition. Clients should be comfortable during the interview and left with the impression that the attorney is a good fit, experienced, and willing to go the extra mile for them. In the absence of a helpful reference, clients can only determine these facts by interviewing numerous attorneys.