Most people who need a lawyer are inexperienced about selecting one. In Different, Youngme Moon explains this conundrum as a Martian new to earth who must choose a box of cereal from the bunch of options at the grocery store; without any knowledge about the product, the Martian grabs the first one it sees and deals with the consequences.
When it comes to choosing an attorney, rash choices may have harsh consequences. But how can you tell if a lawyer will work well with you and meet the goals of your case?
With some tools to evaluate an attorney, you may have a better shot at choosing the right lawyer for you.
Within a social network, someone usually knows a lawyer. “Asking around” may stir up some names, so evaluate the referrals based on the words others use to describe their attorney. For example, if you hear the word “bulldog” then you’re probably dealing with an aggressive litigator; if someone calls the attorney a “teacher” you know you’ll get more education and collaboration. The type of attorney you hire needs to line up with your goals for the case, so listen for these descriptive terms.
Review sites are another type of referral. Some sites provide comments about the clients’ experiences. Also, reviews may come from peers and shed some light on the lawyer’s status within the profession.
Professional credentials are not always necessary or an indication of ability. Awards may be legitimate or fakes, so research the conferring body for authenticity (the American Bar Association) or scams (cash-for-credibility schemes). On the other hand, Board-Certified attorneys are legit but might be more specialized than your case requires. So, it may be safe to consider lawyers without certification.
The personality of the lawyer also matters to the goals of your case. Ask yourself, ‘Which personality type would work best for my purpose?’ For example, a bulldog attorney may not be good for an amicable divorce. There are circumstances that may benefit from one personality type better than another.
Finally, schedule a consultation. It’s fair to expect adequate time and a private place to discuss your case. During this personal meeting, fully disclose about your need for help. Never exchange information about the case in writing. Face-to-face consultations have protection but putting case details into writing may pose a risk.
Sometimes, lawyers charge fees for consultations, and this is a normal business practice. However, then get the most value from the session. Come prepared and bring any documents so the lawyer can fully understand the situation. Also, learn some of the industry lingo by reading legal websites to better make sense of your consultation.
For their part, lawyers may use this time to figure out if they should take the case; are theyright for the job?
By the end of the consultation, you should have a pretty good sense about your choice. Now, rather than the Martian conundrum, you have an educated decision.
It’s common to hear someone complain about their attorney’s fees as costing them “an arm and a leg;” the price tag was high and the services were expensive. However, there are ways to control costs and understand legal fees to avoid hemorrhaging cash.
First, attorneys charge either a flat fee or an hourly rate. Cases in which the attorney has more control over the risks may merit a flat fee. Risks are anything that lawyers may encounter which can’t be controlled on their end, or variables. For example, if you need an attorney to file paperwork, there may not be much that goes wrong. Therefore, it’s easier for the lawyer to assign a flat price to the service. Alternatively, with litigation, your attorney may need to navigate through a negotiation or argument, where anything could go wrong (risk), so you may be looking at an hourly rate to account for the fluctuations in the amount of time your case may require.
In addition to rates, watch out for deposit arrangements. If your attorney asks for a depositamount, this is not the whole quantity – it’s just for starters. You put this amount into an account from which they will draw as needed to handle services for your case, but they may ask for more depending on how your case proceeds (more risks to navigate = more money).
So, the more risks to a case, the more money you may spend; if your case demands more services, then the lawyer will have to supply those at a cost. The best way to control your costs is to control the drama. The less you engage in squabbles or back-and-forth arguing, the less your lawyer will need to respond to variables, i.e. provide services at cost.
For example, if you’re arguing with your spouse over the dining room table, then the outcome is unpredictable. How much back-and-forth over this table will there be? That’s risk—the unpredictable outcome and the time it takes to resolve—and pricing will have to be flexible (hourly) to manage everything that comes up.
Before working with your attorney, learn their communication methods. Some clients feel shocked when bills itemize emails or phone calls—remember, calling and messaging are actions that require time and therefor carry charges. So, calls to follow up on your case might levy charges. Find out in advance about the ways to stay informed, ask questions, and receive information. For example, what is the attorney’s timeframe and method for sending you updates? Do they have a fee agreement outlining expectations? And, for any documents requiring a signature, read through the whole thing first!
It’s hard for people to accept pricing for legal services because attorneys’ work addresses the intangible, priceless needs for justice, equality, or restitution. Despite their lofty purpose, at the end of the day, a lawyer provides a product for a consumer like any business and must charge for services.
We’ve all got problems in life, but only some may need help from a lawyer to address. If your neighbor is loud, do you have a case? When your spouse refuses to work, do you have legal options? It’s important to determine the distinction between legal and non-legal problems.
It’s time to seek a lawyer when legal solutions exist for your problem. If your spouse badmouths you and you’re angry, a lawyer may not help whereas a counselor might. However, if your spouse writes slanderous posts on social media, then you may have cause for legal representation to stop her. The distinction between emotional and legal problems relates to the solutions.
When you feel that a problem needs legal help, consult with an attorney and share the wholestory. Remember, attorney/client privilege protects you so give every detail to your lawyer who must rely on this information to represent you appropriately. Keeping secrets only leads to surprises in court for your lawyer; if your lawyer builds a case on partial details, a new fact from opposing counsel may crash your case. Best prepare your attorney by disclosing everything. Once the attorney fully understands the issue, then they will decide if there are legal solutions and determine their ability to help.
To get the best results for your case, communicate and stay optimistic. Be open and honest with your attorney. Again, privilege protects you, and lawyers must know everything to develop the right argument. Also, make sure your expectations are clear; tell the attorney what you want.
While you should feel optimistic about your chances, avoid predicting what will happen. There are two sides to every case, so stay hopeful without expecting to win. It may seem like a slam dunk, but you just can’t predict everything that your opponent will do, so nothing is certain. Even if your case is like another’s who won, there are still unique qualities about your situation that could cause a different outcome.
After your case ends, the arrangement with your lawyer also ends. Unlike movies, you can’t tell people to “call my lawyer.” This implies your lawyer is on retainer and representing you. In reality, a new situation merits a new consultation, arrangement, and case. Should something happen, then you’ll need to call the attorney, determine the legal solution, work through the case, and achieve the outcome separate from any other times you’ve worked with the lawyer.
Actually, if you tell someone to call your attorney before going through the correct process, they may receive a call for which they are utterly unprepared and refuse to accept, which might further impair your situation.
Finally, after your case ends, add a review for your attorney. Remember, reviews about your experience help guide others during the referral process to find an attorney, but moreover, if your experience was so good that you would work with the lawyer again, then leaving a positive review is considerate.
Attorney Robert Von Dohlen helps Houston families make an important transition. Learn how his unique approach, focused on client education and independence-focused decisions, can help you.