How To Select An Attorney…
I try to remember to ask every new client how he or she got my name.
Some common answers are:
“I found you on the internet.”
” I like your webpage.”
“You drew up my parents’ wills.”
“I found you in the Yellow Pages.”
“I called the Bar referral service.”
“My EAP (Employee’s assistance program) gave me your name.”
“You go to my church.”
Those responses and others make it clear to me that most people are unsure how to select an attorney. I want to share my opinion of how I would pick a lawyer if I needed one, so below is a short five step list designed to help you.
The first thing that comes to mind is how NOT to pick one. Anyone can buy a big ad in the yellow pages, a television commercial, mobile apps, even highway billboards. When I graduated from law school, advertising or soliciting clients was considered unethical, and was not permitted. The U.S. Supreme Court changed all that, and things have never been the same. Just like television exposure can turn a nobody into a celebrity, spending a lot of money can get a lawyer’s name before the public. There are scores of pages in the yellow pages devoted to attorneys. We’ve all seen TV commercials where the attorney is shouting how tough he is, and how he will get you a lot of money. I get calls from legal marketing outfits almost every day. The world is changing whether we like it or not, and the internet has become the “go to” place to find almost anything. However, the personal nature of legal representation demands caution and thought, and a big advertising campaign is no substitute for a little homework.
Physicians usually have to intern for a few years, but lawyers, once licensed, are pretty much allowed to “practice law,” and can accept any and all types of cases. For some matters, a newbie lawyer might be a fine choice, especially if the legal fee is less, but it takes years of experience to know not only what can be done, but what should be done, and whether it’s prudent to do anything at all. Always ask what experience the lawyer has in the area of your particular legal problem. In my practice area, Probate, Wills & Trusts, and Estate Planning, experience is very important.
I would inquire how long the lawyer has been in the area. If he or she has moved around a lot, that’s a red flag. Check with the Texas State Bar Association to learn about grievances and disciplinary actions. Our legal system is adversarial in nature by design, so lawyers will win some and lose some, and there will be some folks who are displeased with the results in their case, but If there are many grievances filed, or if the lawyer has been sanctioned, these are warnings that merit you attention. Like any large group, attorneys have their share of bad apples, so do some checking.
Most lawyers make enemies due to the nature of the job. To make a living in the same location for a long time probably indicates that many clients were pleased with their representation. Also, an attorney that has been in the same area for many years gets acquainted with most of the judges and other lawyers. This can be an advantage, especially when the attorney is liked and respected.
Money is usually a consideration. If you’re thinking of hiring a lawyer from a large firm with swank offices in a high rise office tower, decorated with antiques and expensive art in the reception area, do not expect bargain basement rates. That kind of overhead costs a lot, and you better have a case that justifies the fees that the firm charges. On the other hand, really good lawyers often command high fees, and a large support staff in necessary for some kinds of cases. Another issue with big firms is that your case may not get the personal attention of the lawyer you met in the interview. It may get delegated to a less experienced lawyer. I’m a sole practitioner, and I will be the lawyer for every phase of your legal matter. In all cases, I personally interview each client, and directly communicate by phone, email and U.S. Mail as the case progresses. I will review and approve all documents; prepare you for any court appearances; and I will be by your side whenever we go to court. I share offices with three other competent lawyers with their own practices, and if some emergency pops up, I have back up.
By far the best way to pick an attorney is to get a referral from someone who knows the lawyer, is familiar with his areas of practice, or better yet, has personally used the attorney and was pleased with the services rendered. Once you get a referral, make an appointment to discuss your case. Initial interviews can often last one to two hours. My website www.Donnix.com has various interview FORMS for Probate, Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Powers of Attorney that can be printed and filled out in advance of the initial interview. The basic information I need is the same or very similar to what all lawyers need, so it can prepare you for the initial interview regardless of the lawyer and will save time. Although I try to cover everything, it never hurts to bring with you a list of questions. In selecting an attorney, try to ascertain if he is experienced, competent, honest, and you are comfortable talking to him. Like most attorneys, when I get hired, I draft a simple written fee agreement.which describes what I expect to do and the charges and what to expect in court fees.