If you have a conflict, it’s always better to find an amicable resolution rather than hire an attorney. But sometimes people are toads and they won’t play nice. When that happens, it’s time to call in the infantry and find a good lawyer.
But keep in mind that you must be extremely thoughtful about your choice. Attorneys are expensive and often the priciest barristers aren’t necessarily the most qualified. Here’s how to make sure you find the right person and get your money’s worth at the same time.
1. What do you need?
Don’t go to an attorney or even go looking for one until you are sure of exactly what you want to get done. Do you want to get a divorce done fast and inexpensively or are you looking for someone who can help you fight an unreasonable spouse? If you are thinking of hiring a debt settlement attorney, only speak to attorneys who specialize in that area. Make sure to screen out people who are just not qualified before the clock starts ticking. (I’ll show you how in a bit.)
Remember that the two favorite words in the vocabulary of an attorney are “billable hours”. He or she will be only too happy to act as your personal therapist – at $400 an hour. Figure out exactly what you want before you take a step.
2. Personal Referrals
Be very strategic about who you ask for referrals. Don’t give in to your first urge to ask your closest friends for a name. Approach people you look up to. Consult successful business people who don’t get jammed up but know how to do business and make things happen.
If you can find people in this group who have faced a similar legal conflict as you now face, so much the better. But don’t let that be a stumbling block. A good endorsement from a trustworthy successful person is far more important. Even if your sources don’t have a perfect referral, the attorney they refer you to may have a good referral. Birds of a feather flock together and quality people usually have quality contacts.
If you need a real estate attorney, ask a few realtors. If you need a small business attorney, ask a few people who own small businesses. You get the drift. Go to other professionals who might have occasion to call on the services of a lawyer with special skills in the area of concern.
4. Online Services
There are a variety of sites that can connect you with local attorneys .Typically you’ll fill out a questionnaire and the service will provide a few referrals for you. They’ll provide the attorney’s education, fees and experience.
Legalzoom rolled out a legal service that matches you with an attorney and it is pretty cool. It’s super cheap and has some very interesting bells and whistles. This service isn’t for everyone of course. But look into this and consider it. It could potentially solve your problem at a fraction of the cost.
Make sure that the site also does a thorough background check. Does the site confirm that the attorneys in question have valid licenses and are in good standing with the state bar? If you go this route, make sure you get a written agreement that you understand and an estimate of the costs.
5. Narrow down the list
Most lawyers have a specialty area of practice. Make sure your attorney specializes in the field you are having trouble with. They may charge a bit more than general practitioners but you’ll get a lot more for your money. At least you won’t have to pay for the generalist to get acquainted with the governing laws. This is especially important when it comes to creating a family trust. I’ve seen more than one attorney who has absolutely no expertise in this area muddle his way around in estate law. The client is the one who got the short stick. Don’t let this happen to you.
6. How to Interview the Lawyer
Now is the time to meet with each attorney on your list. They should be willing to meet with you in their office for 20 to 30 minutes without charging you for it. The purpose of that meeting is to determine if there is a match or not.
Besides getting insight into the lawyer’s professional background and experience, see how you feel talking with this person. Never work with any professional you don’t feel comfortable with no matter how qualified. Make sure the person is going to take the time to answer your questions in a way you’ll understand and that they’ll be responsive to your needs.
In my experience, lawyers are often “communications-challenged” and I say this with deepest love and respect. Take note of how long it takes for the lawyer to get back to you. When you are in a legal conflict, you’re going to want answers fast but most lawyers aren’t good at this. Talk about this issue with the attorney and ask her what a fair expectation is about getting your calls returned and how the billing for calls works.
8. Other issues to confirm
Ask about other cases your attorney has handled that are similar to your own. Ask for referrals as well and speak to past clients as well. You are looking for a qualified attorney who will work hard on your behalf. But at the same time, you want a person who won’t alienate the other party. The best way to get a sense of this is by interviewing the attorney herself and her past clients.
I deal with attorneys all the time. Most of them are professional and pleasant folks. They are also fair. But don’t count on every attorney you meet being a gem. Go through this process to make sure you have the right council.
How did you find your attorney? What would you do differently?