10 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE HIRING AN ATTORNEY
1. Reputation You want to know if the attorney has a good reputation in the legal community. Do other attorneys respect him or her? Do judges know and/or respect the attorney? You can get a glimpse into this aspect by asking attorneys and/or judges you know or by researching websites that rate attorneys.
A way to see if the attorney has a good reputation is to see what percentage of their cases come from client referrals and/or referrals from other attorneys. When in doubt, ask the attorney for a few references and then call them.
2. Personality You want to hire an attorney that you feel comfortable with. During the course of your case, you will need to be 100% honest with this person and the attorney will have, to be honest with you as well. You will need to hire someone you trust and who you can work with over the course of your case.
You also want to consider how the attorney’s personality may affect your case. Many law firms and attorneys represent that they are “aggressive” and that they will “fight for your rights.” While those traits are beneficial with litigation, you also want to make sure that your attorney is not simply an obnoxious bulldog who will not listen to reason and forces every case to trial. Litigating cases takes a lot of finesse and a bulldog does not always get the job done. Similarly, you don’t want someone who is afraid of confrontation. You want someone who will stand up for you to the insurance company, opposing counsel and even the court if necessary.
3. Who Will Handle My Case? This actually made be one of the first things you want to determine before hiring any law firm or attorney. If the attorney you meet with is simply there as a marketing figurehead to “sell” you on signing with that firm, then his or her reputation really does not matter if your case is going to be assigned to some unknown associate or non-attorney paralegal of “case manager.” If your case is important to you, you should insist that it is handled by an attorney and preferably a partner. Don’t let your case be assigned to some unknown staff person who may not have much incentive to make sure your case is properly prepared.
4.Communication: You want to ensure that your attorney has ample time to answer your questions and that he or she can do so in a manner that you understand. Your attorney not only needs to be able to communicate clearly with you about your case, but he also has to be able to speak clearly with defense counsel, the judge and the jury. You need someone that the court and jury will listen to during a trial.
Make sure that your attorney is willing to meet with you in person to discuss your case and that he or she is also willing to accept your phone calls. You don’t’ want to be pushed off on an associate or “case worker.” Make sure that you will have access to the attorney handling your case and that your questions will be answered in a timely fashion.
5. Experience: You should know how long the attorney has been practicing law and how long he or she has been practicing law in that particular area of law. Ask how many similar cases the attorney has handled. Determine whether or not the attorney will be familiar with the other parties involved in your case (insurance adjusters, doctors, experts, opposing counsel, judges, etc. . .). What kind of results has the attorney received for his prior clients? Is he or she a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum?
There are many different fields of law and the attorney your co-worker recommended may not have the expertise in the field of law you need. For example, your co-worker’s DUI attorney may not have the expertise needed to successfully pursue a wrongful death claim. Look at the attorney’s on-line profiles and ensure that he actually practices that area of law.
6. Determine Costs: When you call potential attorneys, ask them if your initial consultation is free. Most attorneys will provide an initial consultation to ensure that they understand your situation and to ensure that they can actually provide you with a benefit. If after the consultation the attorney tells you that it is not their area of expertise, why pay for that hour of time?
You also want to be sure that the attorney sets out a detailed explanation of any potential costs in the future such as court costs, retainers, hour rates, etc . . . No need for unwelcome surprises down the road.
If the attorney is willing to work on a contingency fee basis, determine what the percentage is and ask whether or not case expenses are included in that amount. You may also want to ask whether or not any other attorney will be co-counseling your case.
7. Insurance: Be sure your attorney carries professional liability insurance
8. Case Plan: During the initial consultation, do not be afraid of asking the attorney for his strategy or “case plan” for your particular issue. Some cases may be routine and the attorney may be able to easily explain to you what to expect and give you a rough timeline for your case. Other cases involve complex matters and may take some additional time to come up with a “case plan” but you want to ensure that your attorney has a strategy in mind and that he or she shares it with you. Sometimes the attorney’s vision of what should be done does not coincide with the client’s idea, you want to make sure you are both in agreement on how to proceed with your case.
9. Availability: You want to make sure that the attorney or firm has time to dedicate to your case. It does not make any sense to hire “one of the best firms in town” if your case gets placed on a shelf for two years and no one looks at it. Make sure that the attorney you hire has the time to handle your case and that he or she will be the one handling the case.
10. Results: At the end of the day, you want an attorney who can get you the results that your case deserves. Ask the attorney if they have handled similar cases successfully. Look at their website to see if they list case results. If your case is a smaller case, see if the attorney actually handles those size cases and what his or her success rate is with those types of cases. If your case is serious, ensure that your attorney has experience with similar cases as they frequently require the use of medical experts, accident reconstruction experts, economists, etc . . . While no attorney can guarantee you a result, you should be sure that your attorney is capable of getting you the result you deserve.