I sometimes hear from clients about their negative experiences with prior lawyers. I heard from one person that she felt as though she was in a fight with her own lawyer as well as the opposing litigant. Hiring a lawyer can be a daunting proposition, especially if you have not had to hire one before. Legal fees in general and retainers in particular can be intimidating. If you have been served with a lawsuit, the process can be even more stressful given the time pressure of having to file a response with the court in order to avoid your default.
The first issue to consider is whether you need a lawyer at all. If your matter is relatively small and simple, an individual can choose to represent themselves. Small claims matters, for example are handled by the parties only and representation by attorneys are not permitted. If however your legal problem is complex or involves lots of money, it may be a good idea to consult with an attorney.
The next step is to find potential lawyers to represent you. You should not base your decision solely on an attorney website or ad. Personal referrals from friends and colleagues who can tell you about their personal experience with the attorney are the most helpful information. Online resources, such as AVVO can be helpful as well. You should investigate whether the attorney has experience in the area you matter concerns. You should also check the state bar website to verify the attorney’s years of experience, education and whether the attorney has been subjected to discipline, and if so why.
Once you have one or more potential attorneys identified, you should ask for an appointment to meet with the attorney. Treat this like a job interview and you’re the boss. Engage in a frank discussion about possible outcomes and estimated fees. For a litigation matter, the attorney should provide you with a written fee agreement that explains the scope of the representation, hourly fees and costs, and the required up front retainer. If you do not feel that the attorney can represent you honestly and competently, you should look to hire someone else.
Your attorney should be your advocate and partner in your matter. Doing some due diligence before you hire a lawyer can save you a lot of expense and anxiety later on. You can contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 544-7161 for a free telephone consultation.