Choosing a lawyer can seem daunting if you have never done so before. The following are few helpful questions to guide your interactions in a lawyer search.
Can I meet with a lawyer before deciding to hire him or her?
A lawyer will usually meet with you briefly or talk with you by phone so the two of you can get acquainted. This meeting is a chance to talk with the lawyer before making a final hiring decision. In many cases, there is no fee charged for an initial consultation. However, to be on the safe side, ask about fees before setting up your first appointment. During this meeting, you can decide whether you want to hire that lawyer. Many people feel nervous or intimidated when meeting lawyers, but remember that you’re the one doing the hiring, and what’s most important is that you’re satisfied with what you’re getting for your money. Before you make any hiring decisions, you might want to ask certain questions to aid in your evaluation.
What sort of questions should I ask a lawyer?
Ask about the lawyer’s experience and areas of practice. How long has the lawyer been practicing law? What kinds of legal problems does the lawyer handle most often? Are most clients individuals or businesses?
Is it proper to ask the lawyer if anyone else will be working on my case?
Since you are the one paying the bill, it is well within your rights. Ask if staff such as paralegals or law clerks will be used in researching or preparing the case. If so, will there be separate charges for their services? Who will be consulted if the lawyer is unsure about some aspects of your case? Will the lawyer recommend another lawyer or firm if he or she is unable to handle your case?
I met with a lawyer who referred me to another lawyer. Should I be angry?
Probably not. Occasionally, a lawyer will suggest that someone else in the same firm or an outside lawyer handle your problem. Perhaps the original lawyer is too busy to give your case the full attention it deserves. Maybe your problem requires another’s expertise. No one likes to feel that a lawyer is shifting him or her to another lawyer. However, most reassignments and referrals occur for a good reason. Do not hesitate to request a meeting with the new lawyer to make sure you are comfortable with him or her.
What, in particular, should I ask about fees and costs?
How are fees charged—by the hour, by the case, or by the amount won? About how much money will be required to handle the case from start to finish? When must you pay the bill? Can you pay it in installments? Ask for a written statement explaining how and what fees will be charged, and a monthly statement showing specific services rendered and the charge for each.
When I first meet with my prospective lawyer, should I ask about the possible outcome of the case?
Certainly, but beware of any lawyer who guarantees a big settlement or assures a victory in court. Remember that there are at least two sides to every legal issue and that many factors can affect its resolution. Ask for the lawyer’s opinion of your case’s strengths and weaknesses. Will the lawyer most likely settle your case out of court or is it likely that the case will go to trial? What are the advantages and disadvantages of settlement? Of going to trial? What kind of experience does the lawyer have in trial work? If you lose at the trial, will the lawyer be willing to appeal the decision?
Should I ask if and how I can help with my case?
Yes. It is often in your interests to participate actively in your case. When you hire a lawyer, you are paying for legal advice. Your lawyer should make no major decision about whether and how to go on with the case without your permission. Pay special attention to whether the lawyer seems willing and able to explain the case to you and answers your questions clearly and completely. Also ask what information will be supplied to you. How, and how often, will the lawyer keep you informed about the progress of your case? Will the lawyer send you copies of any of the documents that have to do with your case? Can you help keep fees down by gathering documents or otherwise assisting the effort?
During our first meeting, should I ask what will happen if the lawyer and I disagree?
Yes, your first meeting is the best time to ask about resolving potential problems. You should consider getting any decisions about disagreements in writing.
Should I interview several lawyers before settling on one?
Yes. Your decision will be more informed if you consider several lawyers. Even if you think that you will be satisfied with the first lawyer you interview, you will feel better about your choice if you talk to several lawyers.
Can I find out problems or complaints that previous clients have had with a given lawyer?
Sometimes yes. Some states make reports of lawyer grievances available to the general public, especially if these resulted in a disciplinary action being taken against the lawyer. If you are worried, contact the organization that licenses attorneys in your state to see if this is available.