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Guide to Hiring a Lawyer

Having the right attorney when you need one can help you resolve a dispute with neighbors, end a marriage, enforce your rights in the workplace, or even avoid prison time. When life gets legal, whether it's a DUI charge or a positive event such as adoption, it often makes sense to get a lawyer. But hiring a lawyer is not necessary for all legal procedures, which is why FindLaw provides free legal information, as well as do-it-yourself resources.

FindLaw's Guide to Hiring a Lawyer not only helps you determine when you should hire a lawyer, but also helps you choose the right one, understand legal fees and agreements, and get some peace of mind. While lawyers can seem expensive, not having legal counsel when you need it can be far more costly.

Practice Areas

Lawyers typically specialize in one type of law, or a few related practice areas. For example, one lawyer may only work on family-related immigration cases, while another may handle a wide variety of injury cases. Some attorneys don't undertake litigation at all, but serve more transactional or advisory roles. Many in-house business attorneys, while qualified to represent clients in court, rarely step foot in a court room.

Some well-known areas of legal practice areas include the following:

  • Criminal
  • Personal Injury
  • Tax
  • Family
  • Employment

Within these larger practice areas, attorneys may choose to focus on one or more specific types of cases. A criminal defense attorney, for instance, may specialize in defending clients against DUI charges. A family law attorney may handle primarily divorce cases, or even specialize in custody disputes.

Types of Firms

Lawyers also differ in the way their respective firms are structured, ranging in size from single-attorney practices to large, multi-state (or even multinational) firms with thousands of attorneys on staff. In the middle are small firms, which employ between two and 10 lawyers and are sometimes called "boutique" firms. They offer the attention provided by single-attorney firms, but with enough depth to take on a broader range of legal topics. Additionally, certain firms focus on litigation (resolving legal issues in court), while others are solely committed to transactional work (filing documents, advising clients, drafting contracts, etc.). Large firms usually do some of both.

The type of firm you choose will depend on the needs of your case. A single attorney, perhaps working solo, is capable of setting up a living will and trust. But a large company going through a major acquisition will hire a large firm with deep resources and specialized staff attorneys.

Some legal issues do not require the help of an attorney. But for those that do, choosing the right attorney and understanding the process can make all the difference.

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