Hiring the Right Lawyer
Everyone can appreciate the consequences of taking a bad situation and making it worse. This could not be truer than when it comes to choosing the right lawyer. By the time most clients learn that they chose the wrong attorney, it is usually very difficult to unwind the damage. Here are some basic tips every client could use in evaluating potential candidates for legal services.
Expertise in the Practice Area
The legal profession has become increasingly more specialized and it would serve clients well to consider lawyers with significant expertise in the necessary field. While a general practitioner may be competent, clients should be wary of attorneys who do not often practice in niche areas of the law. For example, construction defect claims are governed by the “Construction Defect Action Reform Act” and have unique requirements and limitations that do not apply to ordinary negligence or breach of contract claims. Another example would be family law, where courts follow a distinct set of procedural rules designed for domestic relations cases. Many of the procedures, rules, and deadlines are entirely different than in a typical civil case. Be sure to ask your lawyer what experience he or she has in your area of need.
Industry Recognition and Experience
The vast majority of respected lawyers and law firms are constantly peer-reviewed every year. Publications like Super Lawyers and Denver’s Top Lawyers – 5280 Magazine, to name a few, are respected publications that base their lists on peer review and recognition. It also worth investigating your lawyer’s reputation in the community and how their practice fits with your goals in the representation. For example, if your case is difficult or contentious, and likely to end up in court, you should ensure that your lawyer has the trial experience to take your case to the finish line. On the other hand, if your goal is to be collaborative and to resolve the issues outside of court, then a collaborative lawyer may be the right fit.
Transparency and Realistic Expectations
Clients should be wary to avoid the lawyer who promises the world at a bargain price in the initial consultation. Most experienced lawyers appreciate that nothing is guaranteed in litigation. Those lawyers also understand that they don’t have all of the facts at the initial consultation and are likely hearing only one side of the story. The right lawyer will ask lots of questions. They will thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of moving forward and outline the apparent risks. Most importantly, they should set realistic expectations of potential outcomes. With respect to fees, a competent and conscientious lawyer should be able to give you a reasonable range of what your case should cost. If they cannot give you a range, they should have a reasonable explanation as to why not and they should be able to advise you regarding what additional information they would need to formulate an estimate later. Again, clients should scrutinize any lawyer who offers a bargain estimate in an initial consultation with limited information. More often than not, the client will end up paying significantly more money later after the damage is done.
Find the Right Fit
Half of the calculus in hiring the right lawyer is common sense and following your instincts. To that end, it is worth paying attention to the little things that are so often overlooked. For example, consider:
- Did the lawyer timely respond to your inquiry and communicate to set up an initial consultation in person?
- Were they on time to the consult?
- Were they prepared in advance by the time you met? For example, did they review your documents in advance?
- During the consult, did the lawyer take the time to listen or did they spend most of the time telling you how great they are?
- After hearing your story, did the lawyer actually have a game plan or strategy?
- Were they professional and courteous?
- Did the lawyer provide you with a copy of the fee agreement to review?
In finding the right lawyer, it never hurts to interview several candidates if you have the option and resources available to you. There are many different styles of lawyers, and it is hard to know what is right without shopping around. Lastly, in selecting the right lawyer, consider this parting thought: no matter how bad your circumstances may be, did you leave the consultation feeling more confident that your situation was manageable? If your head is still spinning, keep looking.