A 6-Point Plan For Picking Your Law Firm
Running into legal trouble is never fun. Regardless of the type of case that brings you into the justice system, you’ll need professional counsel to protect your interests and see that you’re treated fairly. That means it’s time to choose a lawyer. Like most tasks, this one’s a lot easier when you take it step by step:
1. Define Your Needs
In order to narrow down your choices, you need to know what kind of legal help you require. “Criminal” or “civil” is not specific enough; define the field you’re looking for. (e.g. family law, personal injury, etc.)
2. Build A Shortlist
Start by researching firms in your area that serve the field you’re interested in. The Internet is invaluable here. Add any recommendations you get from friends or relatives, even if they’re not in the relevant field. Friendly lawyers may provide you with a professional referral, an extremely solid lead.
3. Schedule Interviews
Provided you have the time, try to speak with every firm on your list. A free consultation generally takes less than an hour. Write up a list of questions regarding your case and how the law firm operates (including billing policies, experience with cases like yours, which attorney will be handling your case, what is the total cost of your case likely to be, and so on). You’ll be taking extensive notes on each firm you speak to, so make multiple copies of your question list.
4. Interviewing Lawyers
Ask each question on your list at each firm you visit. Any firm that has trouble supplying you with satisfactory answers should be taken off your shortlist. Note that you should be evaluating both the professional competence of the lawyer you’re speaking to and his or her communication skills. Take the time to look around the firm’s office, too. You want to see a busy but not cluttered workplace with ample professional staff. Empty or overcrowded offices may be signs of a firm that’s either too busy to give you competent representation or too understaffed to do so.
5. Background Research
Head back to the Internet and research the firms left on your shortlist. Locate the bar association (or other legal disciplinary body) for your state or city and look up the firm to check for any infractions or complaints. Legal directories are also great sites to check. These are the same resources lawyers use to pick out partners for cases outside their jurisdiction. Martindale Hubble (http://www.martindale.com/) is the standard, but there are others.
6. Compare Notes
Hopefully you’re down to less than half a dozen candidates at this point. Also, if you started with a wide enough field, you shouldn’t have any firms left in contention that have any serious drawbacks. This means your final selection should be made based on comparing the strengths of the firms you have left. Prioritize based on the level of professional service you expect to receive, not your anticipated costs. (Any lawyers far outside your budget should already have been eliminated anyway.) It’s better to pay a premium for outstanding representation than to spend a little less money for a lawyer that ultimately doesn’t help you.