My friend was looking for a lawyer for a business dispute and was at a loss. She didn’t know who to hire or how to even get started looking, so she began by asking me. I pointed her in the right direction, but her quest made me realize that most people – those who don’t practice law – lack the resources to find good legal counsel.
So how does a non-lawyer determine who is a qualified candidate for their particular case? Of course, you can’t get all the information for your decision in this Blog, but I’ll try to help with some general questions and considerations that apply to most cases.
General Considerations. Does your case involve a fairly typical fact pattern, like an automobile intersection collision? Or does it involve some unusual legal issue? Is yours the type of case where you want a local lawyer or is there some strategic benefit to having a lawyer nearer where the lawsuit might be filed? Are you looking for a specialist? Do you want to pay by the hour or are you more comfortable with a contingent fee?
Network with people you trust. Your friends and family are great resources, especially if you know someone who is a lawyer, a paralegal, or who works in the court system. This is a wonderful place to start, but it is only a start. After you get recommendations, you still need to make sure that person is right for your particular case and that they are qualified to represent you from start to finish (and hopefully to a good outcome!).
Know Your Lawyer. All lawyers are not created equal. There are both good and bad, and where one falls can be difficult to assess.
Use public information (like a Google search) to find lawyers who work in your field; focus on those who specialize in your area of need. There are online lawyer referral services that can help you find a lawyer, but I think you still need to follow these suggestions for “vetting” whoever you may find online.
Spend some time on candidates’ websites. If they don’t have websites, you should be concerned.
Research your state’s State Bar Association. There you may find some basic information including birth date, Bar admission date, law school attended, as well as address and contact information. You may also find information on legal problems such as public disciplinary proceedings.
Almost every courthouse has a way that one can search for lawsuits by or against your prospective lawyer. Most are online and can easily be searched by the lawyer’s name. Some counties may still have paper records, but I’ve never found a courthouse that doesn’t have easy access to an index of cases that can be searched by a party’s name. Check out the local courthouse database for your lawyer’s name and see what he or she has been doing besides filing cases for clients. I would hesitate to hire a lawyer who is involved in personal lawsuits, especially cases filed by former clients.
Experience with similar cases. You should try to find a lawyer or law firm that handles your type of situation. Chances are your case has a lot in common with others, which means your attorney will already have a solid foundation for his or her argument. Experience is an important key to success, and you should look for someone with a proven record successfully managing your type of case. The time, effort, and money invested in previous similar cases will also save you, the client, those same investments. This can be a huge benefit in the right case!
Many states have a process that lawyers can follow if they want to be recognized as “board certified.” That usually involves the lawyer proving that he or she has sufficient experience to seek certification from a “Board” that certifies the lawyer as a “specialist” in a particular field. Most states have specialties in areas ranging from labor and employment law to divorce and family law as well as personal injury, criminal, probate, real estate, appellate, and others. Many states require the lawyer to pass a difficult exam before they can call themselves, “Board Certified.” In general, I recommend hiring a certified specialist if possible.
Ask Questions/Research your lawyer. You have every right to interview prospective lawyers. This is also a great way to help you predict if you will like working with this person. Most lawyers are on their best behavior when trying to convince a prospective client to hire them, so if a question or two causes tension at your first meeting or during your first phone call, then imagine how the relationship could sour after they feel they have you hooked and stress sets in. Cases can go on for years. Be sure you connect with the person you hire in such a way that you can work together until the case is resolved.
CONCLUSION. Hopefully, you found some useful advice in this brief message. If you have asked around and still have questions, feel free to contact me via my firm’s Contact Form. I’ll see if I can help you locate the right lawyer for your case’s unique requirements.