Finding an attorney can be a daunting task. Most people who are in need of an attorney are stressed out, nervous, scared and overwhelmed by the legal issue that they face. Add to that the job of figuring out who to actually hire as an attorney, and a person will very quickly be confused and overwhelmed.
What to do? Take a deep breath. Read through the Top 10 Things to Consider When Hiring an Attorney. Call a few attorneys and arrange meetings or phone conferences with them to discuss your situation. During the meeting ask the questions and make observations about the Top 10 Things to Consider When Hiring an Attorney. Take notes if you need to. Then take a day or two to process the information you have gathered and make your decision about who to hire.
Top 10 Things to Consider When Hiring an Attorney
1) Experience. How many years of legal experience does your attorney have? Is he or she right out of law school, where the learning curve is still going to be pretty steep (and on your dime)? Or is she a veteran with many years of lawyering under her belt? Has she ever actually stepped foot in a court room? How many trials has she actually done? In Minnesota, most district court records are public and a search can easily be done on the Minnesota Trial Court Public Access Page by inputting the attorney’s name, so you can see the number and type of cases he or she has been involved in (though this will only tell you cases that have actually been filed). Does the attorney have experience in the particular area of law that you need help with?
2) Results. All the years of experience in the world don’t mean much if an attorney rarely gets good results. Has she won motions or cases? Is she effective at taking depositions? Has she helped her clients reach settlements that they have been satisfied with? Ask the attorney!
3) Rates/Retainer. How much does the attorney charge? Is it per hour or flat fee? How much is the attorney requiring up front for a retainer? How do the rates/retainer compare to other attorneys in the area? If the attorney is significantly less expensive than others in the area, ask yourself why that is. You may be able to find an attorney that is $50 cheaper per hour than any other attorney in the area, but ask yourself whether the old adage “you get what you pay for” may come into play. An attorney who charges $50 less than everyone else may be so inexperienced that they take twice as long to accomplish the necessary work. So don’t just look at rates/retainer alone, consider them along with the experience and results that you may also be getting.
4) Do you like him/her? You don’t need to become best friends with your attorney, but you should like and trust your attorney. Like it or not, you will be working with him or her for week, months or even years. If you think the attorney is a jerk at your first meeting, he or she isn’t likely to change during the course of your case.
5) What are others saying about him/her? Check out what online sites like avvo.com (which provides ratings and reviews for all attorneys in the United States) are saying about the attorney. Have any former clients provided reviews or testimonials about the attorney? Were they positive or negative? Ask your peers and people in the community who they would recommend as an attorney. If you know a lawyer in a different city, call him and see which attorneys he recommends in your area that might be able to help you with your legal needs.
6) Office atmosphere. The atmosphere of an attorney’s office can tell you a lot about him/her and the type of firm the attorney practices at. Is it a dive that smells stale and smoky with outdated furnishings? Or is it a clean and comfortable office? While these things in themselves aren’t reflective of an attorneys’ legal skills, they certainly give you a clue about how the type of person you are hiring to help you with your legal matter.
7) Professionalism/Courtesy. Are you the attorney’s focus during the first meeting? Does he make you wait long? Is he looking at his watch, trying to move on to a paying client? Your first meeting is likely a short, free consultation. But it is still your time with the attorney and you deserve to have the full attention and respect of the attorney during your 30 minutes.
8) Appearance. Does your attorney look clean and professional? Or does he look like an unprofessional slob? If you are having him draft a contract, maybe it doesn’t matter. But if you will end up in court, you need to think about how the attorney will look and present herself to a judge or jury.
9) What would the attorney’s opponents say about her? Ask the attorney this question. You will probably catch them off guard and you will, hopefully, get an answer that tells you quite a bit about what the attorney is really like. It’s easy for an attorney to have a rehearsed answer about his/her qualities.
10) Go with your gut. If something is telling you not to hire a certain attorney, trust your instinct. Choose the attorney that your gut is telling you to hire.