What Should I Look for When Trying to Choose a Lawyer?
A lawyer is an advocate. She should fight on your behalf, using reasonable, ethical, and cost-effective means. You should have an open line of communication with your attorney. After all, there is a reason why attorneys are also referred to as “counselors.” Great attorneys can be found in high rise office buildings, small firms, solo offices, and in online directories.
With a great attorney being defined in so many ways, what qualities should you look for?
The first, and perhaps most important, quality is that you should feel comfortable in your counselor's presence. A comfortable and open relationship will allow you to share relevant information to your case openly, honestly, and completely. After all, a lawyer can't fully assist you without knowing all of the pertinent information.
Clear Fee Structure
Another absolutely important characteristic of a good attorney is a clear, honest, and appropriate fee structure. For one, you'll want to make sure that the price of the attorney is worth the case. Smaller disputes generally don't warrant hiring the most expensive counsel. In addition, you should ask your attorney if they bill by the hour or if a flat fee arrangement is an option. While some attorneys might advertise a very low flat fee, you'll also want to inquire as to any additional fees. The advertised price might not include court filing fees, or even the cost of printing documents for your case.
Before you even meet with the attorney, you should search for his or her name on the Internet. Look for online reviews and other comments that may be online regarding the attorney's services. You should also check with your state's bar association website to see if any complaints, misconduct charges, or malpractice accusations have been filed against the attorney.
You should also ask the attorney about her experience. Is this her first time handling this type of legal matter? For smaller matters, that might be acceptable and could even save you money. For larger disputes, you might consider a more seasoned (and likely more expensive) attorney.
Communication and Availability
If this is more than a short-term dispute, such as a contentious divorce, you'll need to stay in contact with this attorney regularly over a few months, if not years. What you want to avoid is the attorney that does not return phone calls or emails in a timely manner. Though your case may be routine for him, it is very important to you and should be treated as such.
One way to test the firm's communication is to email them questions shortly after your initial visit. Withhold a few questions from the consultation and follow up via email. If it takes days to respond, the firm may just be too busy to handle your matter. On the other hand, if you are impressed with their response time and answers, you may have just found your attorney.