Chances are, you will need a lawyer at some point in your life. It could be something as minor as representing you in court for a traffic ticket or you may need a lawyer for something major, such as representing you in court for a major lawsuit.
But lawyers aren’t just there for lawsuits or when something bad happens. Lawyers can help you with estate planning, real estate purchases, drafting/reviewing business documents, understanding contracts, family law, intellectual property, forming a legal charter for a non-profit organization or a host of other needs.
How to Hire a Lawyer or Attorney
Want me to let you in on a little secret? Not all lawyers are created equally. No, I’m not taking a jab at the law profession. I am referring to the fact that most lawyers have some specialization regarding the type of law they practice. The family lawyer down the road from your house probably isn’t the place to go to protect your intellectual property rights. Conversely, you probably don’t need a huge law firm to represent you in traffic court.
With the variety of law specializations out there it is important to hire an attorney that is skilled in the area in which you need counsel. There are several things to consider when you decide you need to hire an attorney.
1. Law Firm vs. Independent Attorney
Deciding if you should go with a firm or an independent attorney will depend on your needs. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but the decision might be easier to make if you consider why you plan to hire an attorney. You could save money in the long run by hiring a firm that will be able to cover all your needs rather then hiring multiple attorney’s to cover individual needs, but you could also be spending unnecessary money if your needs for legal assistance are minimal.
2. Education and experience
Education and experience are huge factors to consider when it comes to hiring an attorney. You want to be sure your attorney has the required background to skillfully handle your situation.
The law is a complicated topic – new laws and changes to existing laws are constantly being added to the books. Because of this, most attorney’s have one or two areas of they law they specialize in, and that’s pretty much all they work on in their entire careers. Look for an attorney that specializes in your specific situation.
4. Seek referrals
Before flipping through the phone book and calling the law firm with the biggest ad, do yourself a favor and ask for references from family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. They may know someone who is ideal for your situation. This was how I found my accountant and the law practice that created our estate plan.
5. Research and Interview the lawyer
Before hiring a lawyer, be sure to verify they are licensed to practice in your state and are in good standing. Every state should have a state bar website with a directory where you can verify the lawyer is licensed to practice.You can also do a quick background check by researching lawsuits or cases they have participated in, checking with court records, etc.
Once you have verified their good standing to practice law in your state, give them a quick interview about their experience, fees, and anything else important to you. Consider some of the following topics:
Questions to ask before hiring a lawyer:
- What is your experience within this specialty? with situations such as mine?
- What are my options for this case? Can we avoid court, use a mediator, etc.?
- What are the possible outcomes?
- What is the approximate time line?
- How much will this cost? (see below regarding fees).
- Who else will be working on my case? Will junior lawyers or paralegals work on the case (potential cost savings)?
- Any other relevant questions pertaining to your situation.
Keep in mind that not every question, particularly those regarding time and fees, will have a definitive answer.
6. Legal Fees
Be sure to understand the legal fee structure before hiring your attorney. Some lawyers charge hourly rates while others charge a flat rate for a service, or charge a retainer. Depending on your needs, a retainer may save you money in the long run since you’ll also receive a discount for using more hours with the same attorney. That said, you wouldn’t want to put an attorney on retainer if you have a one time job.
Questions to ask regarding legal fees:
- How will he or she calculate fees?
- What expenses will you be responsible for in addition to fees? (copies, research, postage, filing fees, court appearances, etc.)
- An estimate of the total fees and expenses.
- An estimate of how long the legal matter will likely take to complete.
Keep in mind the questions and answers will vary greatly depending on the nature of your case. Also keep in mind that some of the questions, especially regarding time line and cost may not be easy to estimate.
7. Take your time
Hiring an attorney is not a decision that should be made lightly. Whatever your needs are, consider every aspect of the relationship before you make the final decision on which attorney to hire. If you need legal help, you want to be sure it’s someone who can truly meet your legal needs.