Choosing a lawyer can be a difficult and potentially overwhelming experience, especially if you do not even know one! To help ease the search, there are four key areas to take into consideration. This will help you find an attorney who is the best fit for you. First, you want to make sure your attorney is qualified. Second, you want to see if you like the attorney’s personality and think they are a good match for you. Third, you want to look at their business practices and procedures. And fourth, you want to find an attorney you can trust to do the right thing, with or without you present.
1. Are They Qualified?
You need to have an attorney who is qualified in the same area of law as your legal issue. Try to know and understand which area of law it is you need representation. When you are evaluating an attorney, you will first want to have a consultation with them. Some attorneys may do this over the phone for free, while others may require you to come in and pay a fee to sit down with them. Many attorneys insist on an in-person fee to decrease claims of conflict just in case both adverse parties contact them. Only the more serious potential clients visit willing to pay a fee. Most attorneys have an online presence where you can check their qualifications. Ours are here and here. You can see our main practice areas listed on the side bar of our home page here. Though we have a general practice and can help on many issues, our primary issues are on our home page. You can check for this type of information on most attorneys’ websites.
2. Do You Like Their Personality?
When you meet your prospective new attorney you want to think about how your personalities mesh. Do you communicate well? Do you seem to be on the same page? Does the attorney listen to you? Can you listen to the attorney and understand them? Do they listen to the facts of your case and what your needs or desires are? Does the attorney think of options for your consideration that meet your goals and budget? Does the attorney’s personality seem to be a good fit for you both to have a positive working situation? Lawsuits are work and they are stressful, so you should be prepared to work with your attorney. When you find the right attorney, you should be able to answer ‘YES’ to those questions.
3. What are Their Business Practices and Your Expectations?
Every law firm and attorney small or big has certain business practices and customs. When you consider different attorneys you may or may not have certain expectations of them. Though you should not make demands on an attorney or firm to deviate from their normal business practices, you can make reasonable requests once you understand how their practices work.
a) Contracts and Communication:
Many attorneys will review their business practices with you when you discuss the engagement agreement to retain the attorney. Ethically, it is best if all attorneys actually have a signed written contract with their clients. This process of signing the contract is the perfect time for you to talk about their business practices and procedures. Critical areas of conflict that people may have with attorneys can oftentimes be addressed up front. One of these areas is communication. Make sure you know what the best method of communication is with your attorney. As well as what their policies are on phone calls, emails, and copying you on any/all correspondence that comes through the office. Addressing the communication issues and expectations beforehand is very important to understand how they do business and if you are willing to have an attorney with that policy.
An attorney’s billing practices are very important for your consideration as well. Billing procedures can differ amongst attorneys or firms. As such, you should make sure to have a clear understanding of what to expect on your bill: How often will you receive it; will it be detailed; will you be charged for attorney time as well as legal assistant time; will there be quarterly rounding of time; etc.? Additionally, you should know what happens if you are not able to comply with the terms of the agreement or if you run low on funds. Ask these questions, if they have not already been addressed by the attorney.
Another important business practice you should inquire about is the average turnaround time for the attorney to complete work product. All attorneys who practice in litigation have a variety of deadlines that are court mandated and court imposed. However, what is the attorney’s turnaround time if there is not a deadline? Make sure you know what their policies and standards are so you can have realistic expectations of when you can expect work to be completed. If you are in a rush situation make sure you let the attorney know! They may be able to help you as long as they know and confirm their schedule is clear.
4. Can You Trust This Person?
Remember, when you have a sit down meeting with your attorney, trust your gut instinct. Is this someone you can trust? Is this someone you have confidence in? The attorney you hire is your agent and a representative of you and the claims you have. Look at referrals, but do not base your decision strictly on referrals alone. Consider, is this somebody that when you are not there, you believe they will do the best job they can to represent your side?
In conclusion, when choosing an attorney that is right for you make sure they are qualified in the area of law you need help with, that their personality is a good match for you, and that you understand their business practices and procedures. Finally, make sure that you have confidence and trust in the attorney you choose. This will help you towards a successful resolution to your litigation and to ensure that you are as pleased as you can be during what is, to some, a stressful process.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call my firm: Tracy A. Cinocca, P.C., at (918) 488-9117.
This blog is an update to the video below that was filmed in 2011. Videos on various law topics including, but not limited to, business, employment, personal injury, and family law can be found on our YouTube Channel, and throughout our website. Just click on the hyperlinks. Additional resources here include a Divorce Attorney Fee Calculator and our Golden Rule page with resources to help those in need. This website is still under construction. Tracy Cinocca’s attorney profile and resume are located on this website as well.
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Thank you for all these questions to ask when choosing a lawyer! One that I really liked was that when you are sitting down and meeting with them, figure out if they are someone you can trust. It would be nice to be able to feel comfortable and open up to this person that is trying to help you.
Yes, many times you have to go with your gut feeling. Overcome the “sales” approach and “puffing” to decide if they have a good ethic!
I love the advice you gave about how when you have a sit down meeting with the attorney to trust your gut instinct. I’ve heard that people who follow their gut end up being happier and more successful in their cases. I’ll have to keep this helpful info in mind so that I can choose the right attorney for me!
I really like the fact that you mentioned the importance of deadlines when hiring a lawyer. Like you said, cases can have many deadlines, which means that you need an attorney who can work quickly. I think that a good way to check the efficiency of a lawyer is by seeing how quickly they respond to questions you have. If they get back to you quickly, then they’re probably going to fit deadlines.
Hi Maggie! For many years, I worked as an attorney handling customers of Legal Shield. I fielded many questions clients had who were disappointed with attorneys. The failure to communicate with them and call them back was number one! I have heard some outrageous and unacceptable scenarios. To look at the flip side of the coin though, sometimes an attorney is so busy meeting deadlines they cannot call back! They should have staff available during those rough times. A client would hope it is just a particular week though, and not chronic. That way the client will know the attorney will prioritize the client’s case when the time comes and they are not handling too heavy a case load. I allow texting my personal mobile phone to help with this issue and have my legal assistant Kischa is available. Setting proper expectations at the beginning and throughout the Litigation is key. As business people, attorneys like me want client communication to be number one, but Court Orders actually trump that! It’s law! Thank you for commenting! It is critically important to clients to have their questions answered timely. I understand! I hope things are going well with you!
Thank you Troy! Instinct is important because a client needs to have a sense, if the attorney cares to do the right thing by you and/or if he is just “puffing!”
My brother was recently in a car accident. He has been in and out of the hospital ever since, so he’s looking for legal representation to help him get the money he needs to pay his medical bills. I didn’t realize how important it is to evaluate how long it takes a lawyer to complete work to ensure they will be able to meet important deadlines. I’ll be sure to let my brother know about this consideration.
I guess I hadn’t really considered previously that you would want to choose a lawyer that is qualified in the same area of law as your legal issue like the article states. I guess it makes sense though since I don’t think I’d want a divorce lawyer working on a personal injury law case of mine. I’ll be sure to take this advice to heart and work with lawyers that have previous experience and are qualified in the legal area I need representation in.
Hello John and thank you for your comment! Remember, there are laws that almost universally apply to all areas of law. For that reason, an attorney who practices in more than one area can be more qualified in family law, than one who dedicates 100% of their practice to it. The identification of a qualified attorney, does not equate to the exclusive practice of law in one area. It also depends on years in practice and the case load of the attorney during that time. It is unethical for an attorney in Oklahoma to claim an expertise to practice in a certain area of law, subject to exceptions. Your decision also depends on you!! With whom do you want to work and trust on your case?
Let’s look at your example of personal injury and the relationship to family law. Both use the same civil procedure in the same court, except family law has some extra rules and regulations. So, a family lawyer must know the rules of civil procedure applicable in personal injury actions first, then learn the special rules of — not just family law — but also the particular court in which they practice. Also, personal injury proceeds may be categorized as different types of compensation. This categorization affects in a divorce whether it would be deemed separate property or marital property. Those proceeds are also subject to different laws and regulations for taxing purposes, thereby triggering business law issues as well.
Family law related pre-nuptial Agreements, post-nuptial agreements, trusts and separation agreements also trigger the business laws applicable to contracts. Estate planning, such as trusts and life insurance, are involved in family law divorces of usually larger marital estates. (See my blog relating to trusts and marital property). The Trust part affects probate or estate planning laws applicable to family law matters.
I started in family law because I had experience in business law, especially for family businesses and estate planning, which was required knowledge as important or more some in a divorce where a couple owned businesses and had trusts.
All these issues in my general practice have helped me assist family law litigants.
Another issue is the family law bar tends to be small. Many people have complained about what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, about the “good ‘ol boy network” among attorneys who practice 100% in family law, or in a small town. Some clients do not want that. Also, the family law burn out rate for lawyers is high. Do not think that just because an attorney practices 100% in family law, they are the best attorney for you. I have seen some extreme issues, I won’t discuss here. It is food for thought.
I find, just like in life, attorneys vary just like people. So use your gut instinct about who you hire, too!
Thank you for allowing me to talk about this.
Cases have deadlines that affect a lawyer’s ability to complete tasks.
As far as personal injury actions, usually an injured party wants to make sure their treatment is as complete as possible with a clear prognosis of what to expect in the future before their matter can be resolved. It is so important an injured person take care of their health first — without missing any one year or two year deadlines after the date of accident by retaining counsel. All medical billing clerks and collectors should be referred to your brother’s attorneys’ offices.
I hope your brother is able to fully heal! It sounds like he is hurting. I am so sorry. Let us know if we can help any further! Thank you for reaching out.
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