7 Tips to Finding an Excellent Lawyer

I regularly receive calls and emails from people looking for legal representation.  Although those contacts often result in my being able to help them, I think many people still wonder about the process of finding the best lawyer for what they are going through.

Finding the right lawyer is not as complicated as you might think, but there are some things you need to know.  Here are seven straightforward tips that will hopefully help:

1. Identify your need – The law has a number of specialized areas, and you are not expected to know every single one.  It is however, helpful if you are able to identify what you need for your situation.  For example, knowing whether you need help with a criminal matter, as opposed to a civil matter, will save you time and money.  If you are not sure, consider this rule of thumb:  Criminal matters are typically those with fines and/or jail time.  Civil matters usually involve the payment of money or division of property.

2. Consider a specialist – Although most can handle basic legal matters, many lawyers have specialties or areas where they have developed an expertise.  The American Bar Association found that there were more than 1.2 million licensed attorneys in the United States in 2012. They also found that the vast majority of lawyers are in private practice.

Of that number, there are much smaller subsets that focus on specific practice areas like small business, employment discrimination, real estate, family law, personal injury, etc.  Depending on your situation, you may be better served finding someone with a proven track record in a specific area of the law. A specialist may cost you a little more, but if you can get the results you are looking for, it could be worth it.

3. Do some basic research – Next, find lawyers in your area capable of helping you with your problem.  One way is to ask friends, family members, or colleagues for referrals.  Although this shouldn’t be your only means of searching, by talking to people you know, you will learn what to look for, what to avoid and what to expect.  Another under-utilized search tool are bar associations.  Bar associations are groups of lawyers, like the State Bar of Michigan or Wolverine Bar Associations in Michigan. Most bar associations have a helpline or referral service that will help you identify lawyers in your area willing and able to help.

4. Meet the lawyer face to face, if possible – Once you narrow your list of prospective candidates, you should try to make appointments to meet several of them, either in person or by telephone.  Some lawyers are willing to briefly meet you without charging you to see if there is a good fit between what they do and what you need; however, others may charge a nominal fee for their time.  If the lawyer has a website, visit it before your meeting to learn more about them and the range of services they offer.  Whether you meet a prospective lawyer in person, or by phone, it is important for you to evaluate whether the attorney is a good fit for your matter and your personality.  Also, you should understand that most lawyers are “interviewing” you as well, so be prepared to have a constructive conversation.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – When you interview potential lawyers, don’t be afraid to get all of your questions answered concerning their qualifications and ability to assist with your matter. Here are some things to consider as you meet with prospects. (Courtesy of the State Bar of Michigan’s website):

  • Do they have experience handling situations like yours?
  • Are they willing to work with you and your budget?
  • Will they be the ones working on your case or will it be passed on to a junior staff member?
  • Are they in good standing with the Bar?
  • How long do they think it will take to complete your case?

6. Understand the cost – Before you make your final decision, make sure you fully understand how much the attorney estimates your matter will cost, and candidly determine whether or not you are able to afford their services.  Costs typically include a method of compensating an attorney for her time and expertise, as well as reimbursement of the attorney’s out-of-pocket expenses associated with your matter (such as photocopying, mileage, and postage).

Attorneys employ a number of compensation methods.  For example, some attorneys charge an hourly rate (based upon the actual time spent on the matter); others may charge a contingency fee (a percentage of a recovery obtained).  There are also other compensation methods.  You should make sure you understand how the lawyer you seek intends to charge you, and that you clearly understand the cost.  A number of attorneys use written engagement letters so that both the attorney and client have a clear understanding of the work required, as well as the anticipated cost. Ask your attorney to put the terms of your engagement in writing.

7. Trust your instincts and information – The two “I’s” to consider when choosing legal representation are “Instincts” and “Information.” Trust them both and you are more likely to find the right lawyer to represent you.

Additional Online Resources

Butler Davis PLLC’s Practice Areas

American Bar Association

The State Bar of Michigan

About the author:

Erika Davis is a Detroit-based lawyer with more than 14 years of experience helping all types of clients, including individuals and businesses. Many of her clients are small to medium sized businesses in both profit and nonprofit sectors. She has a robust litigation practice and specializes in alternative dispute resolution. For more information, visit her website.

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