Making sure that
you have the right professional for the job at hand is the first and
one of the most important tasks that you have in getting any job
comes to the legal profession, thereís no difference. Finding the right attorney may take some time, but in the
end, itís always better to have done your due diligence.
If you are going to
engage an attorney, this is
a joint relationship and there are two sides to every relationship.
You must make sure that you choose the right attorney, but
you must also make sure that you are prepared and can assist the
attorney in preparing your case.
That way, you can both work on the job at hand instead of
work against each other.
your own situation
In order to pick the right attorney and save yourself time and
money, you need to know all of your own issues. If you arenít familiar with your own situation, it can be
difficult to explain it to someone else.
Likewise, thereís no point in engaging an attorney to
perform tasks that are useless to you.
Know your own
financial limitations and the financial benefits of engaging the
services of a specific attorney.
In other words, only buy what you need and what you can
afford. If you only
want a will that names your spouse as your sole beneficiary and
there are no other needs, you probably donít need an $1800 will
Many people start by asking friends and relatives about attorneys
that they have used. This
can be a good resource so long as you ask more than how they liked
the person. The
attorney may have been a wonderful conversationalist and a likeable
person, but you should be more interested in how the case turned
Whether you get a
referral from a friend or try someone new, keep your opinions open
to change. A friend may
have had a good experience with attorney, but your case is different
and you need to decide for yourself.
Be sure to ask all the right questions and make doubly sure
that you are getting the right answers.
Once you have a list of one or more
lawyers, call their offices. Briefly explain your situation and ask:
- If the lawyer has experience
with your kind of problem
- If the lawyer charges for an
initial interview and, if so, how much?
- If your problem is routine, does
the attorney have a standard fee? What does it cover?
- If your problem appears more
complicated, ask about hourly fees.
- Does the lawyer have a written
agreement describing fees and services provided for the fees?
Go to the first interview with an open
mind. You don't have to decide to employ the lawyer you are
interviewing until you have had time to think about it.
Write down the information and compare the answers you receive.
Then, call back for an appointment to interview the attorney or
attorneys whose answers satisfied you the most. Most of these
"initial consultations" are free or provided at a nominal
Be organized when you first meet with the lawyer. It is important to
have with you a written summary or detailed notes outlining your
problem; the names, addresses and phone numbers of all parties and
witnesses and their lawyers and insurance companies if you know
them; and all documents which may relate to your case such as
receipts, contracts, medical bills, repair estimates, checks, etc.
Some lawyers may ask you to deliver photocopies of written materials
in advance of your first interview so the lawyer can review them in
Ask questions. Write them down before you visit the lawyer's office.
Here are a few that may be helpful:
Remember: When you hire a
lawyer, the lawyer will be working for you. He or she should be
genuinely interested in your problem and in giving you the best
- Have you had experience with
this type of problem before? How recently? How often? What was
- What percentage of your practice
is devoted to this kind of problem?
- Will you actually be working on
my case? In what way? Will any other persons be doing work on my
case? What will they do? How will it affect my fee or relations
- Will you talk to me in plain
English when I do not understand "legalese"?
- Will you provide me copies of
all documents and letters received or written in my case? Will
you treat this as an out-of-pocket expense or will you want me
to pay for it in advance? Will you allow me access to my case
file at your office?
- Will you keep me informed about
all developments in my case? For important things, will you
allow me to make the final decision?
- Will you send monthly billing
The lawyer may not be able to
accomplish everything you wish because of the facts or the law that
apply in your case. Many times a good lawyer will advise you to
avoid court action.
A lawyer should be able to explain,
in terms you can understand, what he or she hopes to accomplish for
you and how he or she plans to do it.
Think about how the lawyer responded to your questions, his or her
experience and whether you will be able to work with the lawyer.
If you are satisfied with the interview so far, tell the lawyer
everything about your problem, including facts which may be
unfavorable or embarrassing to you. Unless you are completely
candid, the lawyer will be unable to advise you properly.
Strict rules prohibit the lawyer from repeating to anyone what you
say, unless you admit any ongoing or planned criminal activity.
Next, you may want to ask the lawyer questions such as:
Discuss fees frankly with the lawyer,
preferably at your first meeting.
- What are the strengths and
weaknesses of my case?
- What would you advise me to do
about my situation?
- Can a timetable be set for my
- If I hire you, what will you be
doing for me, and when and how will we get back in touch with
- Is there a statute of
limitations, or legal deadline in my case that we must be
careful not to miss?
- WHAT ABOUT THE FEE?
Often, a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge will be
because it is difficult to estimate how much work is going to be
involved. But lawyers can usually estimate the minimum and maximum
limits of the fee for that particular work, or give you some idea of
the problems involved and the time that will be required.
The timetable for paying legal fees depends on arrangements between
the lawyer and client. Usually, lawyers require an advance payment,
often called a retainer, to cover the initial work and court costs
to be paid on your behalf.
In other matters, you will be
billed at the end of the month, or at the completion of the service,
for services and disbursements. Be sure to discuss your plans for
payment with the attorney when you discuss the fee.
A lawyer usually makes only a nominal charge, if any, for your first
office visit. Only when actual time is spent working on a matter do
lawyers charge a fee. Then charges are usually influenced by the
time and work involved, the difficulty of the problem, the dollar
amount involved, the result, and the lawyer's experience.
In some cases, your lawyer may take the case on a contingent fee
basis. This means that if your suit is successful, the lawyer
receives a percentage of the amount recovered for you, plus
out-of-pocket expenses for filing fees, reports and the like. If it
is not successful, he or she receives only these expenses.
As with any other business relationship, fees and costs are
important matters that can breed future problems if there are
misunderstandings. Provisions for binding arbitration may be
included in your Fee Agreement. A WRITTEN FEE AGREEMENT IS ALWAYS
that are often overlooked in choosing an attorney include whether
the attorney is a good listener and/or whether they seem to fully
understand your case.
all people are great listeners and someone that already has
preconceived ideas as to what your case is all about will likely
make mistakes. A good
attorney listens to your circumstances and understands that it is
different from any previous case.
good attorney will ask questions about your case.
Unless you are both a great lawyer and orator yourself, it is
doubtful that you will fully explain your case in the detail and to
the extent that no questions need to be asked.
An attorney that asks pertinent questions is seeking to
understand your circumstances and develop the proper mental picture.
question to be answered can only be answered by you.
Is this an attorney that you can and want to work with?
All things considered, personality plays an important role in
any relationship and it is important that both of you are on the
same side. If you donít like or trust the attorney, you may be better
off going somewhere else. You
will both be better off and your case will be better served.