January 3, 2014 by sandyonyourside
In my last post, I suggested some questions to consider before deciding whether to represent yourself or to hire a lawyer. Suppose you decide, for whatever reason, not to represent yourself. You can still Take Control of Your Case in how you hire and work with your lawyer. Here are a few tips for finding the lawyer who’s right for you.
It may be fine to hire a barber or a real estate agent based on the recommendation of a friend, but that’s rarely a good strategy for finding the right lawyer. After all, you wouldn’t entrust your real estate agent to cut your hair, etc. The day of the all-purpose, generalist lawyer is fading fast. Individual areas of the law are becoming more complex Think about the kind of case you have. Is it a criminal case? A civil case? Are you trying to evict a tenant? get a divorce? Are you going up against a corporation? the Feds? You need a lawyer who is very familiar with, if not an outright specialist in, your case. If you’re very lucky, you may indeed know someone who had the exact same type of case and can recommend someone good. That’s a start. But even then you’ll want to do more. Every state, most counties, and many cities and towns have bar associations. These bar associations have different specialty sections–Family Law, Immigration, Landlord/Tenant, etc. Spend some time googling these associations and specialty sections to find attorneys who are active there and who specialize in your type of case, and then, of course, google the attorneys. You want to identify attorneys who have been recognized by their peers, received awards from courts and community organizations and other lawyers, and have published articles (not just website blogs) in your area of law. You want to locate attorneys with experience and avoid the novices. Then, once you’ve made a list of possible candidates, think about where your case will be heard. Local legal customs and cultures often differ from courthouse to courthouse, and you want to find an attorney who frequently appears in the court you’ll be going to. You may not be able to determine this information from the internet, but it will save you some time if you can by helping you to narrow your list. And one last tip: the amount and quality of lawyer advertising has nothing to do with the amount and quality of service you will get from that lawyer. Don’t be swayed by glitzy lawyer ads. Do your homework.
Many attorneys offer free initial consultations. Others charge only nominal amounts. Assuming that any consultation fee is reasonable (and only you can decide), it may well be worth it to interview as many candidates on your list as you can. You of course want to get a “feel” for the lawyer. But you also want to ask some pointed questions, like:
* How many of [my type of] cases have you handled? How many are you handling right now?
* Do you usually represent the plaintiff or the defendant in this type of case?
* How many of these cases have you handled in [my courthouse, if known]?
* How often will we be communicating? (Your lawyer should be willing to update you on a regular basis.)
* What types of things will you be doing on your own and what will we work on together? What can I do on my own to keep costs down and make things go smoothly? (Beware of “Just leave it to me” answers. It’s your case, after all. Look for attorneys who emphasize client collaboration and decision-making, something we’ll talk more about next week.)
* Do you ever use alternative dispute resolution (mediation, arbitration, etc.) and do you think it might be helpful in my case?
* Will you be handling my case yourself, or will you be giving it to other attorneys in your office?
* What range of outcomes may I expect? (Steer way clear of the attorney who predicts nothing but complete success, unless your attorney is also a prophet.)
* And final word to the wise here.
AVOID THE “SHARKS” AT ALL COSTS!!! I can’t tell you how many prospective clients I met when I was in private practice who told me they wanted a “shark” or a “badass” or a “bitch/bastard” attorney to “stick it” to the other side. I told them what I’m telling you now: Law is about effective conflict resolution, not revenge or divine retribution or sadistic pleasure. A lawyer is an advocate, not an instrument of torture. I guarantee you will pay through the nose for the “shark” — who will use your time and your money to hype you up, over-litigate the case, alienate the judge, and obstruct settlement. You can and should expect zealous, tough representation from any lawyer you hire, but over-the-top aggression is something you really want to avoid.
Inside information–Lawyers will tell you that they have a “set” fee, usually by the hour. But in fact they almost all have great leeway in setting their fees, their retainers, and their “costs” (which are extras like the cost a stamps and copy paper and research fees). Even where the attorney works on contingency, you may be able to negotiate the costs and the percentages. You are in a buyer’s market. You have leverage to bargain. Use it. And get it in writing.
That’s all for this week. Beautiful and snowy in Boston.
All the best,