How to Choose the Right Civil Rights Lawyer

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If you are a victim of discrimination, or your rights have been violated by the government or police, the lawyer that can help you is called a civil rights lawyer. Choosing the right civil rights lawyer is one of the most important decisions that affect whether a case wins or loses.

Interestingly, many people are shocked to find out they are the victims of unlawful discrimination, based upon their status as a member of a protected minority…or even because they are perceived to be a minority. A good civil rights lawyer reveals these biases against you, and your ability and trust to openly interact with your attorney, helps establish your case.

The right lawyer will have experience in civil rights cases, perhaps similar to yours, but not always. The attorney should be able to tell you about similar cases and how they turned out: or whether your case is part of a new approach to civil rights. A good lawyer will have time for you, and be willing to meet and speak with you about your case.

Don’t necessarily be hesitant because of cost, but be certain to ask specifically before you meet if the session is free and how long you will have. Many civil rights lawyers work on a contingency fee basis: they get paid if you win. Be sure to ask about who pays for court costs, as well.

If your case isn’t realistic, or worth enough to the lawyer, an experienced civil rights lawyer will let you know. If it is, the lawyer will tell you about time limits, so that you aren’t barred from acting due to statutes of limitations. At the same time, famous future lawyers often take weaker cases when they are first starting out…young, passionate, very talented lawyers may be hungry for a case such as yours.

Here is a “Top Ten” list to consider when choosing a civil rights lawyer:

1. Many organizations will have affiliated attorneys that they can recommend, with experience and an excellent track record, for cases similar to your own. Also, in instances where you may have an especially compelling case, the actual organization may be interested in representing you. Research national civil rights associations such as: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Association for Retired People (AARP) and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). If a union member, ask your representative. “Google” for groups who advocate for specific civil rights status, ranging from sexual or gender rights, ageism, place of origin, or language and physical disabilities.

2. If you know anyone in the legal field, ask them for a recommendation. You may also contact the state bar association to get a referral of qualified attorneys. Civil rights law is a specialized area, so those in the legal community will be familiar with the best lawyers in the practice.

3. Schedule a consultation as soon as possible with an attorney. Many civil rights laws have limitations on how much time can pass before a lawsuit can be filed. If you wait to long, than you will not be permitted to file your lawsuit.

4. Spend plenty of time with the lawyer at the consultation, but be organized: preferably with a clear outline of what you have to say if you had to reduce it to a simple five minute statement. Tell them your story, explain your expectations for what you want to receive from the lawsuit, and answer any questions they have. Do not be vague. It is important that both you and the attorney have a clear sense of your goals and intentions for the lawsuit. If you do not feel comfortable with the attorney, try someone else. Remember that you have the right to interview almost any attorney you choose, because you are ultimately the one paying the attorney. At the same time, if you expect a trial, you can go watch the attorney in court: many attorneys are impressive in the office, but flounder in court.

5. Inquire about the attorney’s recent track record with cases similar to your own. You want an attorney who expects to win most of their cases, because this shows that they can determine viable clients and cases from the facts. Remember that the legal system is long, emotional and expensive, so you want the best attorney possible when you start. You also need to be prepared to recognize that a successful lawyer has many cases besides yours. Be patient even as you are direct about your concerns.

6. Listen to the attorney’s advice and opinion of your case and write down any preliminary instructions they give you. In some situations, such as in employment discrimination lawsuits, you will be required to first file an investigation and then, perhaps, seek permission to sue. The attorney will let you know if you need to contact a state organization.

7. Ask “Who will be handling most of the details of my case?” Many lawyers use paralegals extensively, or even another attorney. Be sure to meet with the people who will be doing most of the work.

8. Ask about other remedies. Many cases settle, or are better addressed through mediation, or even administrative reviews.

9. Get a second opinion. Discuss the attorney’s advice with (for example) your family before pursuing the lawsuit. It is always best to get plenty of opinions before you move forward. Try and take at least several days to talk with friends and family before you give the attorney permission to proceed.

10. Understand the time frame for what will happen and when: you should be assisting in the preparation by detailing or obtaining evidence for your claim, as well as how to conduct yourself during the run-up to a trial. For example, if the discrimination occurred in a workplace, what should you expect, and what risks do you have to damaging your case if you continue in the work?


Few events in life can be more challenging, or rewarding, than the successful prosecution of a civil rights claim. Fortunately, by making a great start in interviewing and accepting the aid of a successful civil rights attorney, the burden is often more than divided equally.


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