[This is Part I of a three-part series on hiring a lawyer. Like most human relationships, one size does not fit all. You need to find a lawyer that meets your needs and expectations. I hope that this helps you to find a good fit!]
I have been fascinated for many years with the behavior of potential clients who are seeking legal help. These otherwise intelligent, sensible people sit in front of their prospective counsel and transform into empty-headed drones. They mumble answers to direct questions with dry mouths, sweaty palms, and nervous stomachs, and will agree to anything if only the lawyer will represent them and then let them escape and go home as quickly as possible. If you are honest with yourself, you will see some truth in this description even if you have dealt with lawyers in the past.
So… You found yourself in need of legal counsel, and after weeding nervously through various recommendations from friends, relatives, and business associates, you somehow stumbled into an attorney’s office. Uh oh… Now what? Listen up – I think I can help.
Interview the Attorney
The attorney is seeking to provide a service to you. You are an employer seeking to hire an agent – an employee – to represent you. Your attorney will work for you – not vice versa. If you can remember nothing else when the time comes for you to hire counsel, seize onto this mind-set and you will be okay.
Interview your potential lawyer just as you would any other employee. Prepare questions relating to your particular issue before you meet with counsel. Most potential clients don’t ask even basic questions about the attorney’s experience handling similar matters, his or her hourly rates or other fee arrangements, how the matter will be staffed, anticipated costs, and the frequency and method of matter updates. Make sure you ask them!
AskYour Lawyer About His or Her Experience
You need to find out exactly how much experience your lawyer has with your particular type of legal matter. Years of general experience with other types of legal matters may have equipped your lawyer with many tools for success, but it doesn’t make him or her an expert with your type of matter. If he or she doesn’t have much experience with your issue, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she can’t handle it competently. An experienced lawyer can often work outside his or her comfort zone and do a great job. Similarly, an inexperienced lawyer who is smart and motivated may also do a great job despite the fact that he or she is still a little green. But you have a right to know if either of these scenarios apply so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you believe that he or she can do a good job for you. Ask about specific relevant experience!
Discuss the Attorney’s Billing Arrangements
Potential clients rarely ask direct, detailed questions about the fees and costs of their representation, or related issues such as how their matter will be staffed. It’s the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore. Don’t ignore these issues – IT’S YOUR MONEY! If you don’t address billing, it only leads to headaches when the first legal invoice lands at your front door. Start by asking what should be an obvious question: ask your attorney to give you a rough estimate or range of what you can expect to spend.
Find out how you will be billed, and get the details of the arrangement up front. Find out if you will be billed by the hour, on a contingency basis, on a flat rate, or some mixture of the above. Ask whether you will be billed every month, or on a quarterly or other basis. Note that many law firms accept credit card payments – if you would like that convenience, ask about it.