Being presented with a situation where you need to find a lawyer can be stressful. However, selecting the right legal representation is essential – not only for ensuring the best possible outcome for your case but also for protecting yourself, your assets, and your family. But how do you choose the best attorney?
In this article, we present an overview of how to go about choosing a lawyer. These general steps can be applied to almost any legal situation whether it be civil (ex. suing a newspaper for libel or suing a person who caused a car accident for negligence), criminal (being charged with a criminal act such as theft or fraud), or family law (ex. filing for divorce, seeking child support payments).
1. Find a specialist.
A licensed attorney will understand the basics of many different kinds of law but most lawyers will choose to specialize in a particular area. If you are looking for an attorney to handle a divorce or legal separation, you will want to look for a family law attorney as they will be most familiar with the wide range of family law issues, such as division of property, child custody, alimony, and child support. The same logic applies to other legal situations. For example, if you have an invention you want to patent, a patent attorney is who you need to call.
2. Understand the fee structure.
Regardless of their specialization, a good attorney will let you know how they charge for services. Some services, such as writing a will or creating a trust may have a flat rate. Other legal concerns may be billed at an hourly rate. When this is the case, ask the lawyer for an estimate of how many hours a case like yours may take.
3. Can you communicate effectively?
We all have a unique set of communication styles and needs. When meeting with an attorney for your initial consultation, make sure they are speaking with you in a way that you understand and are comfortable with. Do they answer your questions completely and in a respectful manner? Are they offering you their attention or do they appear to be distracted? If you do not feel confident that this lawyer is a good match for your case, then you need to move on.
4. Run a background check.
When you’re close to making a selection for legal representation, be sure to visit your state’s bar association website (for Larimer County in Northern Colorado, the website is http://www.cobar.org/) to run a quick background check. This will show you if an attorney has any misconduct or malpractice complaints or charges.
5. Pick the right size law firm.
Law offices come in a number of different shapes and sizes, from the single-attorney “solo” practice to a large, highly-staffed legal organization. Law offices can also be categorized by size, type of practice (ex. criminal law), location, or legal topic (like family law, tax law or personal injury). Here’s a brief overview of what you might find in each:
- A solo practitioner or single-attorney office will typically handle a variety of general legal matters. Solo law practices are generally less expensive and may be able to provide more personal attention.
- Small legal firms frequently employ between two and ten attorneys. These firms are small enough to offer one-on-one attention but their larger staff size may also offer expertise in a wider range of legal issues.
- Large law firms can range from dozens of lawyers and legal staff to several thousands of employees scattered in offices throughout the world. Large law firms are typically able to handle most types of legal concerns, but they often charge a premium for it.
- Specialized law firms by topic or practice area. Specialized firms may come in a range of sizes, but they will only focus on a narrowly tailored set of legal issues. This high degree of focus allows for greater expertise and specialization in an area.
When trying to choose the lawyer and law firm that is right for you, be sure to take a tour around the lawyer’s office. Is the law office neat, organized, and professionally-run? Are staff members friendly and welcoming? Trust your instincts – if you feel any hesitation or uncertainty, move on.
Whether you’re looking to hire a lawyer who is skilled at divorce, litigation, personal injury or any other legal area, it is essential that you feel 100% comfortable and confident with your legal representation. Legal matters often become an intense emotional process. Make sure you choose an attorney who has the necessary communication and people skills in addition to the legal expertise for your particular case.