You need a lawyer, quick. But before hiring the first attorney with good reviews, make sure they’re the best fit for your needs. A divorce lawyer won’t have the same chops to handle your job injury as a workers’ comp attorney. To find the perfect match, use this simple script for screening then cross-examining your prospective lawyer.
Before Making Contact
1. Do they have a clean track record?
Make sure your candidate is on the up and up and doesn’t have disciplinary action being taken against them. Each state has its own legal disciplinary agency overseeing these processes, so get up to speed before starting a new relationship.
2. Do they have good reviews?
Read reviews and cross-reference referrals. If this is an important matter, you want to make sure you are in trusted hands.
3. Did they graduate from an accredited law school?
The American Bar Association explains that accredited law schools are nationally recognized as providing a legal education which meets national minimum standards and whose students are eligible to sit the bar.
4. Do they charge for an initial visit?
Request a face-to-face meet up to assess fit and initially discuss your case. Before doing so, determine if they charge a fee. Many do not, so if they do consider if this affects your choice.
During Initial Contact
5. Do you even like this person?
If your intuition screams no, it’s probably best to find another attorney. It’s reasonable to interview more than one lawyer to handle your case, so don’t feel obligated to hire someone just because you’ve met face to face.
6. Is the attorney a good communicator and prompt responder?
Your case is important. Choose someone who treats it as such. If they are unable to return calls and emails in a prompt manner, it might be a nightmare to entrust them with what’s happening in your legal life.
7. What is the attorney’s experience with cases like yours?
If you need to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a bankruptcy lawyer will serve you better than a tax lawyer. Just as if you’re facing a child custody challenge, you don’t need someone who specializes in home foreclosures. Get straight to the point and ask what percentage of similar cases they have worked, and what their track record of wins and losses is.
8. Do they have specialized training that will be useful to your case?
Does your lawyer have additional training that will serve you? For example, the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization certifies specialists in admiralty and maritime law, appellate law, bankruptcy law, criminal law, estate planning, trust, and probate law, family law, franchise and distribution law, immigration and nationality law, legal malpractice law, taxation law, and workers’ compensation law. Wouldn’t you like someone who was an expert in your area of need?
9. How would they handle your case?
No need to have a detailed outline up front, but asking this allows the attorney to share the general steps they’d take and also clue you into whether they know how to go about handling situations like yours. If they’re vague, or seem annoyed by the question, that may be a red flag to notice.
10. Will you be working with the same attorney the whole time?
Often a second lawyer will work on a case, or in a large firm you may get passed along to junior lawyers or paralegals. Know up front who you’ll be interfacing with, and ask to meet all the key parties if that’s important to you. Inquire if rates are lower for time billed to less seasoned lawyers.
11. What are their rates?
A lot goes into this one, so let’s look at the bullets:
- What are your hourly rates?
- Do you bill for portions of hours? (No need to pay for an attorney rounding up if they only made a 15 minute phone call)
- For simple projects, such as reviewing a contract, do you offer a flat rate?
- What’s a rough estimate of my total legal fees and approximately how long will it take to resolve my case?
- How often will I be billed?
- Do you bill for our phone calls and emails?
- Do you require an initial payment before start?
12. Request a fee agreement
The State Bar of California, for example, recommends requesting a fee agreement stating the “type and amount of fees that you will be expected to pay. The agreement should also explain how the costs (the other expenses of your case) will be handled and billed. If the lawyer is going to add interest or other charges to unpaid amounts, the agreement should make this clear as well.” Keep a written copy of this agreement for your files.