In selecting a lawyer, great care and deliberation are essential. Most lawyers are extremely well-qualified in the areas to which they devote their practice. Lawyers have been well-trained by law schools, their law firms, and the individual lawyers with whom they have had associations. Most State Bar Associations require not only the successful completion of law school, but they also require the passing of special bar exams to be certain that lawyers understand both the basic precepts of the law, which apply to various fields of law, and also the appropriate ethical considerations. The State Bar Associations and the local Bar Associations assist in the policing of its' members to make certain that lawyers comply with ethical considerations, comply with certain rules and regulations, and correctly apply the practice of law.
In many localities, lawyers are permitted to advertise in the yellow pages for an area of specialization. Often the area of specialization is regulated by the Bar Association. The Association requires that lawyers maintain a skill level, which mandates the annual completion of additional study in the area of expertise under which each lawyer is listed. For example, if a lawyer lists his area of expertise to be Corporation Law, then that lawyer must, in certain states, maintain continuing legal education for a set number of hours each year in that area of law. This is often true of other areas of specialization such as Trials/Litigation, Administrative Law, Domestic Law, Criminal Law, Bankruptcy Law, etc. In some instances, a special test is required for proficiency in a particular area of law such as Intellectual Properties, including patents, copyrights and trademarks. Often other areas are internally protected by the government agency that administers a particular area of law. An example would be Securities Law, wherein government agencies regulating securities will require lawyers to meet certain standards and objectives.
Some states and some localities have referral services that will at random refer an individual to a lawyer who has developed a certain area of expertise in a specific field, such as Domestic, Bankruptcy, Landlord/Tenant, etc. Additionally, there are certain services that will rank lawyers or rate lawyers, such as the ratings system we apply to lawyers listing on our site. However, caution should be used in viewing any ratings assigned to a lawyer or law firm within any publication since such ratings may be politically motivated. Some services look at the number of years a lawyer has practiced. Sometimes special ratings are given to lawyers who are members of large firms. Therefore, if a lawyer is not rated as highly by some of these various services, it does not necessarily mean that the lawyer is not extremely skilled or well qualified for that particular purpose. These sources of lawyer rankings may be helpful, as is the case with our ratings system that ranks a lawyer or law firm on their Internet and computer savvy in order to establish how technologically advanced the firm and their services may be, but these ratings should be a secondary matter in the process of selection.
The primary considerations in selecting a lawyer should be whether the client feels comfortable with the lawyer selected and if he is confident that the lawyer is competent in his field of expertise. Much depends upon an individual's judgment, and many times a lawyer is hired on the basis of referrals from other individuals who have for one reason or another experienced a lawyer/client relationship as a result of work performed. The client must feel very comfortable with the lawyer and must feel confident that the lawyer selected is the one who can capably handle the client's needs. Some of the questions that would be helpful to most individuals in selecting a lawyer include the following:
- 1. Has the lawyer handled matters like this one before?
- 2. Approximately how many matters like this has the lawyer handled previously?
- 3. Does the lawyer specialize in the area of law in which the client is interested (e.g. Corporations, Contracts, Domestic, Criminal, etc.)?
- 4. Will the client be charged for the first consultation?
- 5. How much does the lawyer charge per hour?
- 6. How many hours does the lawyer believe it would take to complete the task?
- 7. Does the lawyer object to the client obtaining information about the subject matter before visiting with the lawyer? If so, for what reason?
- 8. What is a contingent fee, and what percentages does the lawyer charge?
- 9. Are there any government licensing fees or filing fees for this type of work?
- 10. Are there any statutory guidelines for this type of work?
- 11. Does the lawyer provide the client with a written contract or a letter confirming employment? If so, can the client see an example?
- 12. Does the lawyer have any references?
- 13. When did the lawyer graduate from law school?
- 14. Has the lawyer ever been admonished or cited by an ethics committee? If so, for what reason?
- 15. Has the lawyer ever had any complaints filed against him? If so, for what reason?
- 16. Has the lawyer ever lost his license and, if so, for what reason?
- 17. Does the lawyer object to the client asking these questions? If so, for what reason?
- 18. Does the lawyer (recognized by his peers for his expertise) receive referrals from other lawyers relative to this particular area of law (Corporations, Contracts, Domestic, etc.)?
- 19. Is the lawyer licensed in any other state or has he ever been?
- 20. Has the lawyer ever received any honors; if so, identify and describe the honors.
- 21. Has the lawyer ever published? If so, identify the publications and area of publication.
- 22. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, why and where does he advertise?
- 23. Has the lawyer worked with any other lawyers or firms to whom the client may be referred for evaluation of a lawyer?
- 24. Does the lawyer refer work to other lawyers in other areas of the law where the lawyer is not an expert?
- 25. Identify some of the seminars the lawyer has attended during the past several years and what have been the areas or topics of discussion?
If, after asking these questions, you are still uncertain about your choice of legal counsel, we suggest you contact your local Bar Association. However, if you are ready to select a lawyer, you may choose to utilize these search avenues.