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Selecting a Lawyer

Choosing a competent attorney to represent you on a legal matter is one of the most important decisions you may make. Because most people are rarely involved in lawsuits, being involved in one is typically stressful and traumatic. A good lawyer will give you confidence and make litigation more bearable.

Laws allow attorneys to advertise on the radio and television, in newspapers and phone books, and on billboards. It is not recommended that you choose a lawyer based on his advertisement. However, the advertisement may be a helpful starting place. For instance, you can find out if the lawyer has a certified specialty, get access to the firm’s Web site and perhaps get information on fees from an advertisement.

TIP: Phone books typically list attorneys by their specialty or board certification. This is important information because attorneys board certified in a certain field are perceived as being more qualified. Additionally, complex cases (mineral law, patents, appeals) are generally better served by a board-certified lawyer in that specialty.

It never hurts to use an Internet search engine to compile a list of possible attorneys in your area. You can then search a single attorney’s name to find papers or legal articles she has written as well as cases she has handled.

TIP: There are a tremendous number of Web sites that promise attorney referrals or list lawyers supposedly competent in their field. Do not use these Web sites to find an attorney. Remember the attorneys utilizing the Web sites are simply paid advertisers. Do not expect to find an attorney by filling out a form and checking off your "issue." Selecting an attorney is not like shopping for a car online. No form can unearth the right "make and model" lawyer for your situation.

Talking to family, friends and colleagues is an excellent way to find an attorney. These people have had dealings with specific attorneys and can tell you what their experiences were with that lawyer.

All states maintain an official Web site listing attorneys licensed to practice law in that state. The Web site should have information on the attorney’s years in practice, specializations, the law school she attended and whether any disciplinary actions have ever been initiated against her.

TIP: State bars generally have sections or committees of lawyers who practice in one area. If your case involves a business contract, you can contact the president of the business law or litigation section for some direction in selecting an attorney.

Lawyers practicing in a city or area are usually members of the local bar association. The local bar association has an office that you can contact for a lawyer referral. The referrals simply come from a list. The name you are given is not necessarily an individual personally recommended by the local bar association. He is simply a member who is available for referrals.

How do I know if my situation warrants hiring an attorney?

You should consult with an attorney if you or your property has suffered a serious injury. Personal injuries with pain and suffering and out-of-pocket expenses definitely warrant a consultation (usually free) with an attorney.

TIP: If your business or property is injured or injury is threatened, and your livelihood is likely to be affected, it is important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible.

TIP: If you have been a victim of discrimination or a civil rights violation, you should first contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Those Web sites are www.eeoc.gov (EEOC) and www.hhs.gov/ocr/ (OCR).

I am meeting with an attorney today to discuss my case. What questions should I ask him?

You should ask:

  • How long have you been practicing law?
  • How long have you been practicing in this area (city, county)?
  • How long have you been with this firm?
  • Are you board certified in a specialty and, if so, when were you certified?
  • How many cases have you handled similar to mine?
  • How many cases have you tried in front of jury?
  • Do you usually represent plaintiffs or defendants?
  • Will you primarily handle the case or will it be assigned to another attorney? (then ask the same questions of the attorney who will get the case)
  • Will you take the case on a contingency basis?
  • If not, explain your fees. How is your hourly time segmented?
  • What do you anticipate the expenses (not fees) will be to handle this case? Will I have to front the expenses?
  • Will your paralegal or legal assistant be working closely on the case? Will I be talking to him on a regular basis?

After you have established answers to basic questions, you should question the attorney about the specifics of your case:

  • What do you see as the legal issues?
  • How strong is my case, in your opinion?
  • Do you have a sense that the case can be settled?
  • How much preparation, research, investigation and discovery will be necessary to handle the cases?
  • If I do not want to settle, are you willing to take the case to trial?

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