Which Lawyer is Right for the Job?

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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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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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How do you determine which attorney is right for the job? Obviously, the amount of time and energy you spend shopping will depend on the urgency of the situation (e.g., an arrest) and the significance of your legal needs (e.g., a trademark violation). You need a lawyer who understands where you are coming from and who will help you get where you want to go, when and how you want to get there.

  1. Screening calls: call each prospect on your list, explain your legal problem, and ask if they handle matters such as yours. Ask generally what their fee, or range of fees, would be for the service. If you like the answers you get, schedule a personal visit (be sure to ask if there will be a charge).
  2. The get-acquainted meeting: How else would you find out which attorney has the most appeal to you?

Questions to take to the meeting

Here is a list of questions to start with:

  1. General interest:
    • How many years have you been in practice (you want a seasoned attorney)?
    • Do you specialize?
    • What kind of experience do you have in the area of your problem?
    • Have you ever been the subject of an ethics or disciplinary action?
    • Do you carry malpractice insurance?
    • References, references, references?
  2. Specific questions:
    • Are you familiar with cases like mine? Describe the similarities and differences between other cases and mine.
    • How many of these cases have you handled? How many of these cases have you won?
    • What are the possible outcomes in my case? What are my case’s strengths and weaknesses?
    • What’s my case worth?
    • Ask about the desirability of considering a compromise. Do you go to trial or are most settled outside the court or with mediation or arbitration?
    • How long do think this case will take to get resolved?
    • What kind of approach will you take to resolve the matter?
    • Who will work on my case? Will the attorney hand the case off down the road to an associate who is cutting his teeth on the case?
    • If litigation is a possibility, does the attorney handle it or will someone else in the firm?
  3. Price:
    • How do you calculate the costs of working on this case?
    • What are the typical expenses? What rate will I be charged for photocopying or courier services, long-distance services, legal research?
    • How often do you bill?
    • Can a payment schedule be set up?
    • If there are problems with the bill, do you charge for the time spent discussing it?
    • Is a deposit required up front (a “retainer”)?
    • Is there a fee agreement?
    • Is time spent on the phone charged?
  4. Communication questions:
    • How will you keep me informed (e.g., email, fax, phone, status reports)?
    • How often will you keep me informed?

What attorney will get the starring rule will depend on the answers to those basic questions, how enthusiastic the attorney is with the case, and how comfortable you are with the attorney on a personal level. Judge the attorney the same way you have learned to judge others. If you’re in sync, give him or her green light.

Postscript: Any attorney who “guarantees” results, duck for cover. Airtight cases don’t exist.

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