How to Find the Right Lawyer for Your Needs

We have all heard the lawyer jokes, haven’t we? Ones like “How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving!” Well, as funny as that one is, it’s not a laughing matter when you actually need an attorney to help you in real personal or business matters. Whether it’s to prepare your will, make estate plans, resolve a tax issue, handle a personal injury claim, evict a tenant, draw up a business contract, defend against a civil lawsuit, or even handle a criminal proceeding, lawyers are invaluable professionals in navigating the complex legal maze and protecting your rights.

How to Find the Right Lawyer for Your Needs

The interesting part of needing the help of a good lawyer is that most of us really don’t know where to look or even begin. Unless you’re someone who has unfortunately dealt with lots of legal issues, you may think you can just look in the yellow pages, run a quick search on the internet or call some number you see advertised on TV. That’s probably not the best idea. But there are some ways you can find a lawyer who will meet your needs and become a real asset to you.

I am ashamed to admit that 20 years ago, I actually did use the yellow pages to find a divorce attorney. I lived to regret being so cavalier about that decision and once again, making a big mistake taught me an important lesson. I finally discharged him and was able to get a fair settlement in the end with someone else protecting my interests. There are definitely better ways to obtain a good attorney.

How to Find the Right Lawyer for Your Needs

Check with your employer to see if they have an EAP plan

That’s an Employee Assistance Program which can aid you in finding many things including legal help. This is particularly good for simple procedures like writing a basic will or power of attorney or for confusing situations when you don’t even know what type of lawyer you need to consult. Usually there is a free 30-minute consultation for you to check out the situation and get some free advice. There may even be pro bono help available for you (free services).

Ask family and friends for a personal referral

This might be the best way to find someone who you can trust and verify their experience easily. Keep in mind though that just because your brother had success with a bankruptcy attorney, for example, your needs may be very different than his were. It’s important to find a good match in the particular area of expertise you need.

Ask professionals you have worked with

CPA’s, financial advisors, realtors, doctors, and even colleagues may have some good recommendations, especially if the expertise you seek is in their field. Lawyers and paralegals in one area may also be able to recommend lawyers in other areas.

Contact local and state agencies for additional information

You may be able to find out more information about attorneys you are considering, such as their status to practice law in your state, any certifications they’ve received, and any disciplinary actions taken against them. Also check your local bar association or an appropriate lawyer specialty group (such as the National Elder Law Foundation or the American Health Lawyers Association).

Use a referral website

If none of these options work for you, you can check a lawyer referral website to find local options. I recommend Avvo.com, Nolo.com, and FindLaw.com. If you qualify as having low or moderate income, you can check LawHelp.org for free or low cost resources.

Once you have the names of some prospective candidates, the best thing to do next is to call and set up an in-person free consultation. There is nothing better than an eye-to-eye meeting to make sure there is understanding, compatibility, and communication. You need to be comfortable talking with and depending upon this person. If you find you’re not comfortable during the meeting, it’s probably best to look for someone else.

There are also a series of important questions you should ask the attorney when you first meet him or her. They include:

  1. What are your areas of expertise and does my situation fit your experience?
  2. How long will it take to prepare for the case, resolve the matter, or complete the document(s)?
  3. How will I be kept up-to-date on your progress? Telephone calls, e-mail, or in-person meetings?
  4. Who will actually handle my situation? You really don’t want the attorney you’ve carefully chosen to assign all the work to a paralegal or junior associate without your knowledge and approval.
  5. How am I to be billed? By the hour, flat rate, on contingency? Are fractions of the hour to be itemized and charged? How are incidental expenses to be handled? Do I need to pay a retainer?

After you have completed your consultations, you should be able to decide on the right person to represent your needs. Remember, you can always change or fire an attorney, although it is more cost effective to choose wisely the first time, and if it’s a court case, you may need court approval to make a change.

Legal issues can be complicated and you’ll want to be sure that the right expert is there to guide you along. A little due diligence up front can make all the difference.

Have you had to seek out a lawyer to help you? What selection process did you use? Were you satisfied with the result?

12 Comments

  1. I’m a paralegal and I agree with asking people who they have used. The bar association is usually a good source for referrals. One thing to remember is to match the lawyer to job. If you want a routine will dividing your ordinary assets between your two kids who get along with each other, the person in the small office in a shopping center will probably do just as good a job as the guy in the corner office in the downtown high rise, and will almost surely cost less. On the other hand if you have lots of money tied up in multiple businesses and trusts and have heirs who can’t stand each other, the guy in the corner office with his army of minions may be the one to hire to make sure everything is coordinated and done right. If you are in an accident, the guy who has been advertising on TV for years is probably worth interviewing.

  2. I’m really lucky I’ve only needed a lawyer once and I totally found him in the Yellow pages (or Google… essentially the same thing) and lucked out. When I was in grad school in Virginia three cops were killed within a month by speeding cars, so they made any tickets over 80 reckless driving an exorbitant fine and 90 days in jail. This awesome new law lasted about 6 months, but during it, I got a ticket for going like 95 (I know, entirely my own fault). But the lawyer, a kind judge and the only time I’ve ever bawled like a baby in public got him to drop it down to 79… and still a large fine. AND lawyer fees on top of it. That was a heck of a lesson to learn.

  3. Bruce stern

    Hi Gary,

    I would suggest you first to refer the past cases of the lawyer, what were his reviews on that cases, what is his motto, etc. How he handles the case is the priority to know, what fees does he charge, etc. There are many more things to find the best lawyer that could match your needs. Useful post 🙂

  4. Hey,

    Great post.

    I completely agree with you that attorney will help in all real personal or business matters.

    You should interview your lawyer the same way you would interview someone you were hiring to work for you. You should have good chemistry and you should feel comfortable with them.
    You have shared useful tips.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. LNweaver

    That’s a good tip to ask CPA’s, doctors or colleagues about lawyers. Like you said, even other lawyers may have ideas. Professionals in the same area tend to be connected, so I can see why that could be a good starting place to look.

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