Updated: Jan 7
Lawyers help people by offering legal advice, preparing documents, and representing you in court or other proceedings. The purpose of this article is to offer tips on how to effectively choose legal representation.
First, you need to define your legal problem. Whether it is a landlord/tenant issue, a small claims issue, or a criminal matter, you need to have a firm grasp on what’s going on to determine what kind of help you need. Going to an attorney who practices personal injury for issues regarding your child’s education is almost like going to a skin doctor for a root canal! While both may be doctors, unless the skin condition caused the tooth problem, they don’t usually overlap. You need to go to an attorney that practices in the area that you have an issue.
Second, recognize when you need legal help. Generally, in our legal system, people are always allowed to represent themselves. Whether they should, however, is a different story. If you know about the law-i.e.-the rules of a particular area, you know how to explain and answer questions about your case, and you understand all the consequences and can accept the challenges of representing yourself, you may do well representing yourself. Even if you need to have some general questions answered to feel comfortable in that role, you could seek legal advice. Lawyers can offer advice on legal strategies, answer questions, and can give you the specifics regarding your concerns. People generally feel comfortable representing themselves in non-criminal cases like small claims, landlord-tenant matters, and some traffic cases.
In certain cases, where the stakes are high, the matters are complex, or you may not fully understand all the legal rights and remedies available to you, hiring an attorney may be the very best thing you can do for yourself. Attorneys are not just knowledgeable about law; they are trained to think and to implement a strategy. Simply put, non-lawyers generally do not have the time, experience, resources, and the know-how to put into a case to give themselves a chance— especially against another lawyer! If your problem is complex, involves a lot of money, or is something you don’t understand you should seek legal representation.
Criminal cases, construction cases, personal injury cases, and some family law cases are examples of when you might want to hire an attorney.
After deciding to hire an attorney, even if it is just for a consultation, finding one is usually not difficult at all. You can look at radio ads, television ads, newspaper ads, and even on the internet! Probably the best way to find an attorney is to talk to people in your network who have the same challenges you face. Ask them about their lawyer and what they think of them. Chances are, if you do this enough, certain names will come up— along with what people think about them.
From there, you can make a decision regarding whom you’d like to meet and work with on your legal issue. Sometimes, though, friends don’t have a referral with the expertise you need. They may be able to offer a great divorce lawyer, but you need help with a contract matter in your business. That’s when you can turn to a resource such as local bar associations. They list all active attorneys who are members of the association, as well as local rules and community events on their website. You can select lawyers based on areas of practice as well as counties served. This is especially good when you need a lawyer in an outlying county for a traffic ticket you got!
Other sources include a community leader, a pastor of a church, a men's or women’s support group usually has a list of well-regarded attorneys; even nonprofit groups who are interested in the same subject matter can usually offer suggestions on an attorney. You are well on your way and armed with new information on choosing the right lawyer. However, we still have work to do. In part two of this series, I’ll offer guidance on the qualities you may want in an attorney, share some questions to ask in that first meeting, and discuss what you should do after the first meeting. With these tips and suggestions, you should be well on your way to choosing effective representation for your legal issue.