July 10, 2013
By Andrew Bluestone
No one needs to hire an attorney when everything is going fine. Well, sometimes it’s necessary to find a lawyer to handle a good transaction (selling your house, setting up a corporation), but often enough its only after a stressful event.
When you need to hire an attorney to help you with a specific situation, you want not only the best attorney you can get, but you want an attorney who is very (really, very very) familiar with your situation. If it’s a criminal arrest, you want an attorney who does only criminal defense, and lots of it. If it’s a house sale, you want someone who deals only in real estate sales, not a matrimonial attorney who sometimes does closings.
How do you find that attorney and what do you say to select that attorney? These days, it’s the web, and really nothing else. You can get referrals from the state bar referral service, and you can ask friends. Each has its drawbacks. Friends may mean well, but cannot realistically rate the attorney. Referral services will give you names, but they will not rate the attorneys.
The web is alive with rating services, none of which profit from their referrals. Look at AVVO, or Yelp, or Martindale Hubble. Each has a rating number or letter, and each will list whether the attorney has any disciplinary history. Both are important.
When you get to the attorney, ask him (feel no shame here) how often he/she has handled this situation, how he/she bills, what you can expect your bill to amount to, how the attorney communicates, what you should expect to hear from the attorney, a good faith estimate of how much everything will cost, will the fees take you to the conclusion of the case, and most important, whether you can get a reference.
Not all attorneys will give you a client to speak with. It does violate the client’s privacy. The attorney can be asked to provide the names of cases he has handled. The cases and the names are public information, and with a little sleuthing on the web, you can find out a lot about the attorney. See if he/she has been listed as attorney for similar cases, and see if anyone has written about them.
Most important, ask the attorney to analyze your case, tell you the strengths and weaknesses, tell you what the other side will argue, what the judge is likely to do, and how to maximize your strengths.
If all this seem like a lot to do, ask yourself whether your case/situation is important to you, and what a good outcome will mean to you.