It can be confusing and daunting trying to find the right lawyer when a need arises. This article should help with some of the steps that should be taken to identify a lawyer that will be a good fit for you and how to best work with that lawyer.
The first step in finding the right lawyer is identifying the specialty you need. Like most professions nowadays, lawyers tend to specialize in one field. While a generalist may be suitable in some situations, most clients feel more comfortable working with an experienced personal injury lawyer that just practices in one area of the law.
One of the best ways to find a lawyer is to ask family and friends if they have experience with the particular type of lawyer you need. Or you could ask another advisor (financial planner or accountant) for a referral. You may want to interview more than one lawyer to compare their approaches to see what works best for you. While not a hard and fast rule, many people will probably want to stay away from family, friends, and neighbors who are lawyers unless they specialize in the field you need help with.
Prior to the first meeting with a lawyer, you should know whether you will be charged for the initial meeting, how long the meeting will last, what you should bring with you, and where the meeting will take place (usually either at the lawyer’s office or your home).
Prior to engaging a lawyer, you should have, in writing, how the lawyer will charge for his services. The most common ways of billing are on a flat fee basis, on an hourly rate, or on a contingency fee basis. For some types of fee arrangements, a written fee agreement is not only preferable but is required. The lawyer should also be clear about what is included in the fee.
For lawyers with certain specialties, there may be additional questions you may want to ask. For example, if you are working with an estate planning attorney on a Will and Trust, you would want to know who will keep the original documents once the work is complete. You would also want to know what needs to be done after you sign the estate planning documents (funding trusts, changing beneficiaries, etc.). And will the lawyer keep you updated on changes in the law that would affect your planning?
Finally, there are some common mistakes you want to steer clear of if possible. Some clients will move from lawyer to lawyer because they don’t like the answer they are getting. It is unlikely that if 2 lawyers who specialize in a certain area of the law say exactly the same thing that you will get a different answer by seeing a third lawyer.
Changing lawyers because you think it is taking too long to accomplish a given task is not usually the best way to proceed. Some matters take a great deal of time (a few years) to resolve. The lawyer should let you know at the outset how long a matter will take to resolve.
And finally, listening to friends or neighbors who give you legal advice or tell you you should have done something differently (taken a different legal approach, for example) is usually a bad idea. While they mean well, just because friends or neighbors had a similar legal issue does not mean that their situation was identical to yours or that the approach their lawyer took would be the right one for you. It is rare that the two situations are exactly alike.