Choosing an attorney should be something done after much research and care.
This is especially the case if the situation is technical and requires significant legal experience to handle.
Sadly, most people in need of an attorney sign a fee agreement with the first lawyer who they are able to talk to in person.
And who could blame them?
In most cases, people need advice and guidance in a hurry when they reach out to an attorney for help with a case.
It is no surprise that they decide to go along with the first decent looking attorney who extends a helping hand.
Tips For Choosing An Attorney For The First Time
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Obtain Referrals From People You Trust
Where to start?
Cold calling an attorney you’ve never heard to help you with what might be the most important, difficult, stressful, or expensive event in your life feels terrible.
Trying obtaining referrals from trusted friends or family to attorneys that are known to them.
Ask questions about their experience with the attorney, what they attorney helped them with, and for as many examples as they are willing to disclose.
While you might not hire anyone from the initial list, you can usually obtain subsequent referrals to attorneys from the initial trusted family referrals list.
Read But Be Cautious With Online Reviews
Here’s the thing about online reviews.
In some cases, a lawyer might have hundreds of happy clients, but one or two bad reviews online might make him or her look like a terrible lawyer.
In many cases, people go online to leave a nasty review when they haven’t even hired a particular attorney out of spite (often in divorce or custody cases).
Lawyers are wise to the existence of reviews.
They learn to manipulate them.
It is common practice for law firms and attorneys to ask their happy clients to go and leave positive reviews whenever possible, or even offer them something in exchange for going to leave a review.
This pushes down or drowns out negative reviews.
Attorneys also challenge bad reviews, appealing them over and over until the person who left the review is just too tired of dealing with it to stick by it.
Yes, it is possible that a firm with tons of good reviews is awesome, and a firm with lots of bad reviews is a terrible choice.
But not in every case.
Our point is that review sites are not the end all.
Read the reviews, print them out and bring them to the consult, and ask for an explanation.
Do your own research.
Don’t assume that everything said online is true.
Take Testimonials With A Grain Of Salt
We personally don’t think much of the testimonials you see on attorney’s firm websites.
Testimonials are a marketing tactic to encourage potential clients to trust the company.
They are hand-picked by the firm or their marketing company.
They might not even be true.
Naturally, they will show the firm in the best light possible.
Be wary of any advice that you rely on website testimonials.
Take Awards, Organizations, and Associations With A Grain Of Salt
Attorneys cover their walls with plaques and degrees to help convince their clients that they are good lawyers.
The sad thing is that many attorney “awards” are pretty easy to “win” and have really very little to do with someone’s expertise in the legal profession.
Sometimes all you need to do is mail in a check to get the plaque from these made-up organizations that earn money off of the plaques.
Just because someone is a member of a specific Trial Lawyer’s Association doesn’t mean that they are necessarily a good trial lawyer either.
Confirm That The Attorney Handling Your Case Actually Has The Practice Area Experience You Need
Many legal cases can be extremely technical, depending upon the aspects of the case.
Just because someone has handled lots of cases doesn’t mean that they’ll be experienced enough to handle yours.
For example, if your loved one died in a motorcycle crash, you’ll ideally be looking for a wrongful death attorney who has handled motorcycle crashes before, either in the case of a death or even in the personal injury world.
MC crashes (injuries, reconstructions) are not the same as a motor vehicle crash.
They just aren’t, factually and forensically.
You’ll be looking for a team that has a ton of experience working motorcycle crashes, and an attorney who understands the unique aspects of an MC crash.
As another example, if your loved one died after being injured by a faulty product, you want someone who is experienced with product liability suits.
Someone who is experienced in handling wrongful death MVAs may not be as prepared to handle a complex products liability case without some serious work to get up to speed on something that is an entirely new practice area.
An attorney who is experienced with criminal defense jury trials may not be qualified to even prepare the paperwork to initiate a modification of child support matter.
While the firm website may claim that the organization handles the specific type of case, make sure the actual individual talking to you about the case can answer questions about the practice area.
Confirm That Your Attorney Has A Significant Amount Of Trial Experience (If Trial Is Possible In Your Case)
No one wants the case to go to trial.
But in the event that it does, an attorney who can prepare and take a case to trial is an absolute necessity.
Ask your potential attorney about their most recent cases that went to trial.
Confirm what the cases were about, where they were held, and whether or not there was a jury.
If the attorney hasn’t been to trial at all in the past 12 months on any case, that is a flag.
If the attorney hasn’t ever handled a jury trial, that is a flag.
If the attorney hasn’t ever taken your kind of case or something similar to trial, that’s a flag.
Technically, a 7-minute presentation of evidence and argument over a speeding ticket counts as a trial.
But this is not the kind of trial experience you need.
Ask the attorney for specifics.
Listen For War Stories
When you are speaking to an attorney, pay close attention to whether or not the attorney says things like:
- “the last time I handled”
- “My most recent”
- “this one time”
- “Your case is similar to”
- “I should tell you about”
The potential attorney can’t disclose confidential information about previous cases.
But they can talk generally about their work so long as they don’t violate confidentiality.
In your consultation with a potential attorney, it should be natural in the conversation for the attorney to tell stories about what they did or how they did.
If they can’t tell you relevant war stories, you might keep looking for an attorney who can.
Meet The Attorney In Their Office Where They Work
An attorney’s office (where they do the bulk of their work) says a lot about them.
It is common for law firms to keep conference rooms open and available so that attorneys can look as professional as possible.
Those rooms are tastefully decorated, dusted, and there are usually cold or hot drinks.
Attorney offices are often much different.
Sometimes they are disorganized.
Sometimes they are downright disgusting.
If the papers from other cases are spread across the room in a whirlwind (along with dirty dishes and gym socks), you can imagine your case file right there in the middle of that chaos?
If your potential attorney won’t meet with you in his or her office, feel free to ask for a tour of the premises.
It’s pretty common for folks to want to see what the lay of the land looks like, and get a tour to help themselves feel comfortable about committing with a particular firm.
If the attorney won’t let you see his office, and won’t give you a tour of the place, we would seriously be wondering why not?
Be Ready To Ignore Attorney Pressure
Unless you have a pending statute of limitations or some other extreme hurry up reason, be ready for unnecessary pressure to sign up with any specific attorney.
Practicing law is a business, and the clients are a commodity.
Attorneys need the client’s money to pay their own bills.
If the client feels like the attorney is putting pressure on him to sign up right away, won’t allow him to leave with the fee agreement unsigned, or doesn’t want to let him talk to his spouse, family, or friends about the potential representation, this could be a sign that the relationship between that particular attorney and client isn’t a good fit.
Talk To More Than One Potential Attorney
When you call up a law firm or solo practitioner, one of the first things the intake people will establish is what your case is about.
They might give you the option of speaking to an attorney, or coming in for an appointment.
In either case, it is highly recommended that you talk to more than one attorney before you sign a fee agreement.
If you can do the conferences in person, all the better.
In the case of attorneys, you don’t really know what you don’t know.
And you don’t know if there is another attorney out there who can serve your needs better or make you feel more comfortable and secure if you don’t go out and talk to them.
In personal injury or death cases, it is pretty common for attorneys to waive the consultation fees to get you in the door as soon as possible with as few hurdles.
But even if you have to pay the consultation fee, the money is often worth the opportunity to compare what people say to you and how they say it.
You’ll definitely learn something in every consultation about the case.
With every attorney you talk to, you’ll either decide that the first man or woman that you spoke with was the right one, or that you should keep looking.
Ask For The Estimated Plan Of What The Attorney Intends To Do If Hired
A great way to try and confirm whether an attorney has enough experience to handle the case is to ask them for a step by step explanation of what is expected to happen and when.
Ideally, the attorney will use previous case to explain the steps, as in “the last time we did this, here’s how it happened…”
The attorney might have names to give you of the potential experts who will work the case (forensics, reconstruction, etc).
If the attorney is vague in his response, has no plan, suggests no names, and tells you that the firm will develop the plan after the fee agreement is signed, seek out more information from this firm.
Vagueness during a consult is often a sign that the attorney doesn’t know what is going to happen or when due to lack of expertise.
Take Wins/Losses Records With A Grain Of Salt
Clients like to ask about wins and losses.
Some attorneys even recommend that you ask about them.
But here’s the thing.
Sometimes a case looks like a loss (like the client goes to jail), but actually counts as a win.
Some cases are good results (meaning wins) even if the client doesn’t get the result that he/she originally wanted.
While a “not guilty” verdict is pretty awesome, a guaranteed sentence of reasonable length without the cost of a jury trial can be considered a win as well.
It is important that your attorney has successfully handled cases that are similar to yours.
But how the case was brought to the end result is way more important that the ultimate recovery (as far as $$ is concerned).
Read The Fee Agreement Carefully And Consider Negotiating
The fee arrangement is just one of the considerations in selecting an attorney.
Remember, you can always ask to take the fee agreement with you, to read it over or think about it more.
But failing to pay close attorney to the fees issue could cost the estate and the survivors hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is all too common for survivors to focus on what the attorneys are going to do for them, and less about what they attorneys are going to eventually get paid for doing that work.
Attorneys get paid many ways, but in general in a wrongful death case, it is going to be on an hourly basis, or on a contingency fee.
On an hourly case, it is common for attorneys to request that you deposit a certain amount of money with them firm, to be held in trust until the attorney earns it.
Any unused funds are returned at the conclusion of the case.
In a complex case, the retainer could be quite large.
On a contingency case, the attorneys do not demand any money up front.
They may ask you to pay for expenses as the case goes, or they will just keep track of them to be paid back at the conclusion of the case.
The attorneys then take a percentage of the money recovered in the lawsuit.
One good thing about talking to more than one attorney is that you may be offered different kinds of fee arrangements.
Some attorneys, really excited about trying to land a case, will ask for a smaller percentage of the recovery.
Sometimes attorneys will ask for a chance to bid against the other firm for the case, or make you a better offer.
Don’t be afraid to shop around, and if it makes sense, negotiate the contingent fee.
Listen To Your Gut
In the end, the attorney and firm you select needs to be someone you can trust and rely upon.
In all cases, there are going to be some tough decisions coming in the future about where to take the case, and how to proceed.
You need to know that the firm has your back, and is acting for your best interests.
And not just to churn the file to earn money.
If you are not completely comfortable with your choice, don’t be afraid to keep looking.
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