Choosing a lawyer when you or your business have been injured by another individual or company can feel like driving a car in a new city without GPS. You don’t know where to turn or what to look for. It can feel almost impossible, especially if you don’t know any lawyers. Many people ask friends or business acquaintances for recommendations, which can be a good start. Others turn to the internet to begin a confusing and daunting search. Either way, the consequences of choosing the wrong lawyer can be catastrophic. So, what do you need to know? What qualifications are you looking for? How do you know who to trust? How do you know the lawyers are good at their job? Here are some important things you need to consider when looking for the right lawyer to represent you.
Does the lawyer have experience? To be precise, this question should be worded: Does the lawyer have the right kind of experience? Look on the law firm website. Do they list your type of problem on their practice area page? What areas of the law are emphasized? Do they have a page that covers the issues involved with your kind of case? Do the lawyers’ profiles talk about working on your kind of case? This is important. The law is very complicated and it isn’t possible for a single lawyer to be able to handle every type of case well. Most lawyers concentrate in specific areas of the law. If a lawyer does mainly banking, for example, then she may not be the right choice for a personal injury case, and vice versa. If you have an environmental case, you will need an environmental lawyer. If you have a business litigation problem, choose a business litigation lawyer, and so on. In addition, check out whether the lawyer is a defense lawyer or a plaintiffs’ lawyer. And finally, ask the lawyer directly if he or she has experience handling your kind of case.
What kind of qualifications does the lawyer have? Start with his or her education. Research the law school he or she attended. Is it well regarded? Does the lawyer have other relevant education? An accounting degree, for example, can be very useful if you have a case with lots of business financials involved. Has the lawyer taught law school; written books, articles, or blogs on a certain area of the law; or created videos on specific legal topics? All of these things help to prove that a lawyer is qualified to handle your case.
How long has the lawyer been practicing? If you have a complex case, a lawyer who has recently graduated from law school might not be the right choice. In the law, experience counts. The longer a lawyer has been practicing, the more cases he or she has worked on. This experience means they know more about what to expect, how to argue and win the case, and what mistakes to avoid. Choose a seasoned lawyer for a complex case.
Is the lawyer recognized by his peers? Good lawyers know a tough opponent when they argue a case against him or her. Judges also get to see which lawyers are good at their job in their courtrooms every day. That makes these individuals good judges of who is competent in the legal field. Look for legal awards such as Leading Lawyer, Super Lawyer, Martindale Hubbell, US News Best Law Firms, National Trial Lawyers Top 100, and others.
Does the lawyer have the results to prove that he or she is capable? Good lawyers and law firms have results to brag about. It is one way for a law firm to prove that they are good at their job. Look for a results page on the law firm’s website. Check out the overall amount of money recovered as well as listings of individual cases. Does it look impressive? Do they list cases like yours? You want a lawyer who knows how to win your case, and previous results show that the law firm has a track record of success.
How do you choose a law firm that is the right size? This is more important than you think. Should you choose a one lawyer firm, something in between, or a large law firm in the city? There are pros and cons to each. Large law firms typically charge large fees. If you have a huge problem and can afford really big hourly rates, maybe you should go for it. However, know that you might be better served by a small to medium-sized law firm who will treat you as one of their most valued clients. Also note that many top lawyers with large firm experience, go on to open their own firms, so in that scenario, you might be able to get a large firm lawyer for medium-firm fees. If you are looking for a law firm that only charges a fee when you win, called a “contingency fee”, there are other considerations. Look at the list of cases the firm handles. If you have a $200,000 problem and the law firm talks about $100 million dollar verdicts, you will most likely be too small a client for them. In this scenario, your case will not get the level of attention that it deserves. On the other end of the spectrum, a one or two lawyer firm may not have the resources or expertise to handle your case if it is substantial. Think of it like a college search: find a law firm that is a good fit if you want great service.
Is the lawyer open and honest about what to expect? Understanding the law is very difficult. You need to be able to trust that your lawyer knows what he or she is doing and is being ethical and honest with you. This is not always easy to determine. Some indicators that your lawyer is acting with integrity include the following: A good lawyer will never pressure you to sign a contract. Choosing a lawyer is an important decision, and a new lawyer should give you the time you need to make that decision. He or she should never use high-pressure tactics to get you to hire him or her. Next, honest lawyers tell their clients upfront about all fees and give the client that information in writing. Usually it is included in the contract between the lawyer and the client. They do not simply make up fees as they go along. Business clients are typically charged an hourly fee that is agreed upon. Personal injury clients and environmental plaintiffs are usually charged a specific percentage of the amount recovered if the lawyer wins or settles the case. That percentage is usually between 33% – 40% depending on the type of case and the amount of work involved, and is always agreed upon at the start of the case.
Does your lawyer communicate with you and include you in decisions about the case? A good lawyer knows how stressful a lawsuit can be. His or her job is to keep you informed, explain what is going on in the case, and take care of details that you do not need to worry about. It is not his job, however, to make important decisions about the case without consulting you and securing your informed approval. Nor should your lawyer ignore your calls, take a long time to call back, treat you dismissively or rudely, or fail to answer your questions and keep you updated about your case. Good lawyers treat their clients well and understand the need for consistent communication. If for any reason you feel that you are not important to your lawyer or that your lawyer is not treating you with respect, consider finding a new lawyer.
Is the Law Firm in the news? The news media is always looking for experts and often relies on lawyers for input on a story. They also like to cover important legal cases on the local news. Look on a law firms’ website to see if they mention anything about recent press or being covered by news outlets. This will tell you if the law firm handles important cases and/or has the legal expertise to be contacted by the media. It also lets you know that the law firm is comfortable working with the media, which might prove helpful down the road if the media may play a role in your case.
As you can see, hiring a lawyer is not easy. Hiring the right lawyer is even harder. Ask questions and do your homework. This will significantly increase the chance that your relationship with your lawyer is successful.