Choosing the Right Lawyer, Part II
In the previous article, Choosing the Right Lawyer, Part I, we discussed the steps to choosing the right lawyer for your legal issue. The article began by asking you to define your legal problem, offering examples of when you might need an attorney, and it ended with some suggestions on places to find attorneys. This article completes the discussion on choosing the right lawyer by discussing the qualities you may want in a lawyer, offering questions to ask at the initial interview, and ending with tips on what to do after that first discussion with a lawyer.
Finding an attorney skilled in your legal issue is, sometimes, the easy part. Now comes the challenge: Narrowing down the list of attorneys to your selection. The goal, here, is to find an attorney with whom you are comfortable both personally and professionally. It is likely that your case will involve sensitive, private, and even confidential information about you, your finances, and your situation. You need to trust your lawyer with that information and feel that you are not being judged about the choices you made with regard to your legal issue.
When clients leave out necessary information from their attorney because they are afraid they will be judged instead of represented, the case has the potential to go really bad, get really ugly, or become really expensive. You need to know your goals, i.e. what do you want? Don’t assume your attorney knows what you want; each case is different. In an employment situation, you might want your job back, vacation and sick time wages, or to negotiate your resignation instead of being fired. Knowing what you want and being frank about it is a good thing during the initial meeting.
At the initial meeting, you should be prepared to explain your situation and your goals. Take all of the paperwork on the case to the first meeting and be ready to tell the lawyer how it relates to the case. Don’t be afraid to take notes; you may need to revisit some information later. Keep in mind that some lawyers charge an initial consultation fee for clients and some don’t. It usually depends on the lawyer and the type of case. For instance, most attorneys charge a consultation fee for family law cases.
However, lawyers who do personal injury cases rarely charge consultation fees. Remember that you are interviewing the lawyer for a fit; if there is no fit, you may want to go further on your list. Here are some questions you may want to ask during your interview with the attorney:
How much experience do they have in matters like yours? This is different from how long they’ve been in business; it specifically relates to how they handle cases like yours.
How do they believe the case should be handled? This is a very important feature that will, in all likelihood, help distinguish the difference between attorneys. This is where you learn how the attorney intends to present your case. Do they intend to cast you as poor, uneducated, and unsophisticated? Is that what you want? How does that help your case? Do they intend to cast the other side as irresponsible, uncaring, and cold? Is that what you want? Will that help or hurt your case? Is it necessary? Listen and learn the distinction between the different strategies offered. It may be what makes your selection easier to make.
What is the time frame for completion? Keep in mind that time frames are general guidelines; sometimes cases go fast and sometimes slower than expected. Having a guideline helps to keep expectations in check.
What, if anything, is expected of you during the case? Besides paying your bill, other things may be expected of you. Learn what they are, upfront, so that you can meet the expectations associated with your case.
How you will be kept informed? This is always a challenge; you don’t want to call too much and you don’t want to seem disinterested in your own case. Tell the attorney how often you need to be informed on the case and the best way to do it. Email works well for most attorneys since it gives you a precise question, there is a record of the contact, and it can be answered at any time. If that is not a good method of staying informed of your case, let the attorney know the best way and listen to whether they are willing to keep you informed in the way you need.
The fee arrangement. Be aware of what is expected, when, and how it will be determined. No one wants to have a misunderstanding, on either side, about money.
What do they participate in the community? Knowing if—and where—a person volunteers is important in helping you understand their connection to your community and how they help resolve its challenges.
Armed with information after the initial consultation, you should be ready to start your selection process. After settling down from all the new information, try doing a basic gut check: Who did you like and why? This should help you narrow down, but not completely discount, some of the attorneys on your list. During your thought process, ask yourself with whom would you be most comfortable in working and why. Sometimes, being comfortable with a person may mean that you are too likely to assume without asking or it may mean that you like the way they talk to you and how they relate to you.
Another question to ask is whether you are comfortable with their skills and experience. In other words, they talked a good game in the office; can you trust them to deliver? Yet another question to ask is whether you clearly understand the explanation of what your case involves. One way to test your understanding is to repeat the explanation to yourself. If you got it right and it makes sense, you probably have a good understanding. After resolving any differences between what you understand your case to involve and what the attorney explained, you are closer to making your selection.
Choosing the right attorney is a step-by-step process that starts and ends with you—the client. Knowing what you want, the steps to take and the questions to ask should make it a bit easier. These articles have offered some pointed suggestions on how to tailor the process and make it work. With that information and your own experience, you are well on your way to choosing the right attorney for you.