Choosing a good lawyer is like choosing any other product or service. It’s best to do thorough research to help you make an informed decision. Once you secure several lawyer referrals with expertise in the appropriate practice area, you should carefully research each candidate. Below are some simple steps to choosing the best lawyer for your legal needs.
Conducting Candidate Interviews
One of the best ways to assess a lawyer’s legal ability is by interviewing them. Most attorneys will provide an initial consultation—usually an hour or less—at no charge. Below are a few questions to consider:
- What experience does the lawyer have in your type of legal matter?
- How long have they been in practice?
- What is their track record of success?
- What percentage of their caseload is dedicated to handling your type of legal problem?
- Do they have any special skills or certifications?
- What are their fees and how are they structured?
- Do they carry malpractice insurance? If so, how much?
- Who else would be working on your case and what are their rates?
- Do they outsource any key legal tasks for functions?
- What additional costs may be involved in addition to lawyer fees (postage, filing fees, copy fees, etc.)?
- How often will you be billed?
- Can they provide references from other clients?
- Do they have a written fee agreement or representation agreement?
- How will they inform you of developments in your case?
Keep in mind that a higher fee does not necessarily equate with a more qualified attorney. Consequently, a rock bottom fee may signal problems, inexperience, or incompetence. After meeting with the lawyer, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Are the lawyer’s experience and background compatible with your legal needs?
- Did they provide prompt and courteous responses to your questions?
- Are they someone with whom you feel comfortable?
- Are you confident they possess the skills and experience to handle your case?
- Are you comfortable with the fees and how they are structured?
- Are you comfortable with the terms of the fee agreement and/or representation agreement?
Consulting the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory
Martindale-Hubbell is a great resource for information about a law firm and its lawyers. This guide—which can be found online at Martindale.com and at your local public and law libraries—is often used by lawyers when choosing legal talent in another jurisdiction.
The directory includes basic practice profile data on virtually every lawyer in the United States and Canada and detailed professional biographies of leading lawyers and firms in 160 countries. It also includes lawyer and law firm ratings based upon peer reviews, which may help when choosing between two equally qualified candidates.
Asking Other Attorneys
Lawyers know the skill and reputation of other lawyers. Attorneys may be able to provide information about a fellow lawyer that you may not find in a book or online, such as information about a lawyer’s ethics, competence level, demeanor, practice habits, and reputation.
Conducting a Background Check
Before hiring any lawyer, contact the lawyer disciplinary agency in your state to confirm that they are in good standing as a member of the bar. For an online listing of each state's lawyer disciplinary agency, review this directory of lawyer disciplinary agencies.
You should always check references, especially if you located the attorney through the Internet. You can also check a lawyer’s peer review ratings online at Martindale.com. Peer review ratings provide an objective indicator of a lawyer's ethical standards and professional ability, generated from evaluations of lawyers by other members of the bar and the judiciary in the United States and Canada.
Touring the Lawyer’s Office
You can tell a lot about an attorney from their law office. Request a brief tour of their office, beyond the office or conference room where you met with the lawyer. Is the law office neat, orderly, efficient and well-run? What kind of support staff does the lawyer employ? Does the staff appear friendly and helpful? Is the lawyer’s office local and easily accessible? Is a large portion of his office space unoccupied? Watch for red flags, such as mass disarray, unhappy staff members, and empty offices.