You have recently decided to start a new business, plan to buy or sell real estate, finally decided that you have put off having a Will for entirely too long or encountered a legal problem. You need a lawyer. But the process of selecting a lawyer who meets your needs may seem daunting. How do you find a lawyer?
As lawyers, we often hear our clients tell us later that they put off getting help because finding a lawyer and making the first appointment seemed overwhelming. Hopefully, these tips will help you make the process of choosing a lawyer less difficult.
1. Identify your need. Do you need a will or a trust (estate planning services), are you looking to sell real estate, do you have a small business that needs attention, did you receive a speeding ticket, do you have an issue relating to landlord/tenant, divorce or paternity? Lawyers often only provide certain types of legal services, not everything.
2. Recommendations. There is nothing wrong with asking around when you need a lawyer. If a lawyer is recommended by someone you trust, that can make things easier.
3. Searching online. Looking on the internet is another good place to start. You can check lawyer review sites and the attorney’s website.
• Before beginning your internet research, you should consider a few basic questions. Should the law office be located an acceptable distance from your home or work? Do you want a lawyer who works with a firm or works alone? Do you want someone who is an eager new lawyer or someone more experienced?
• Can I trust reviews? The answer is yes and no. Sometimes reviews and rankings will be honest and reliable. Other times, especially in situations where a person gives a bad review of a lawyer who represents the “other” person in a dispute, the reviewer may have unreliable motivation. Also, often lawyers have limited reviews, and good lawyers may have no reviews.
• What should I look for on a lawyer’s website? First and foremost, look to see if the attorney indicates that they provide the type of legal service you need. If a lawyer says that they primarily provide criminal defense services, and you need a will, chances are that you want to keep looking. Also, make sure that the items you initially identified as important like location, etc. are met.
4. Call and make an appointment. Can you email the lawyer to set up an initial appointment? You can, but lawyers receive hundreds of emails in a week, many of which are not legitimate. Generally, calling to make a first appointment is more effective. It’s also the first chance you have to glimpse how you might be treated. Is your call taken right away and an appointment made, or if a message is left, do you receive a return call promptly? If the attorney is not available to help you or does not handle the type of legal services you need, ask for a referral to another lawyer who does provide that type of work, or ask if your town has a lawyer referral service.
5. Initial Fee. Most lawyers will not require that you hire them before a first appointment. Some may offer a free initial consultation and some may charge you for the initial appointment. When you call to make the appointment, ask what the charge will be for the initial meeting. The key here is to avoid surprises. Also, ask what documentation, or any other information, you should provide. You may be asked to send documents electronically to the attorney prior to your meeting. If you are not comfortable emailing documents, let the office know you will bring them or drop them off before the appointment.
6. Preparation for the Initial Appointment. Gather the documents and information that the attorney’s office requested and provide those as directed. Most attorneys will copy original documents that you bring. However, if you are concerned, copy your documents before the meeting. Also, make a list of questions that you want to ask during the first meeting. Having the questions written in advance will help you from forgetting or getting nervous. Importantly, include a question about fees and costs. Again, to avoid surprises, you should know how you will be charged if you decide to hire the lawyer to help you.
7. Initial Appointment. Generally, the purpose of an initial appointment is to explain what legal services you are seeking. Be prepared to explain your situation, bring documents and information requested, listen to what the attorney says to you, ask your questions and make sure you understand what is being explained. If you don’t understand, don’t be shy. Ask the lawyer to explain again.
8. Remember. “Trust your gut”. Are you feeling at ease about how you are being treated or are your questions avoided and not being answered? Most lawyers treat their clients politely and with respect, and you should expect that to happen. If it doesn’t, then maybe this isn’t a good fit. Too often people say “I never really felt comfortable.” That should be a message. Having a feeling that the lawyer is confident and will be able to help you is important.
Often people tell us that they were very nervous about seeing a lawyer for the first time. Afterward, however, they felt at ease and realized that meeting with a lawyer was easier than expected.
Please note that this Article does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney/client relationship.
Hodges and Davis, P.C. — November 2019