[ This is Part III in a three-part series on how to hire a lawyer. In Parts I and II, I discussed the importance of interviewing your potential lawyer to make sure that he or she is right for you, particularly in terms of experience and costs. In today’s edition of the Opening Statement, we will look at some other things to think about before you make a final commitment to retain counsel.]
The dreaded interview is over. You managed to ask some important questions about your potential lawyer’s experience handling matters like yours, and how much you can expect to spend. Maybe you even managed to negotiate a fair deal for yourself, and you are feeling good about that. Now what? Should you sign on the dotted line? Maybe – but not just yet. Read on….
Don’t Rush to Make a Final Decision
Unless your matter is extremely urgent, making a snap decision to hire your lawyer is not in your best interest, and many good lawyers will tell you to think it over for a day or two. It is very rare for something to be so time sensitive that you must hire the attorney before you leave the office. Beware if your lawyer pressures you to hire him or her immediately.
Instead, go home and reflect on how things went. Make sure that you don’t have any additional questions that you either forgot to ask, or that didn’t come to mind until after the initial meeting. Call the lawyer back and get your questions answered if you have them.
If you haven’t already done so before the meeting, ask around to see if anyone you know has used your potential attorney or his firm. Just make sure that you understand that a firm’s reputation may be stellar, but you are hiring an individual – not every lawyer in a great firm is the same. Google him or her and see what comes up. Check out your attorney on www.martindale.com, and on any number of other lawyer listing services that are now available to the public for free. In short, think it over and do a little homework. It’s a decision well worth at least some time and effort.
Don’t Ignore Your Instincts
Make sure that you are comfortable with the attorney – you may be working with him or her for a long time. You don’t necessarily need to like your counsel, but you need to respect him or her. You must also be able to communicate with your counsel. Last but not least, you must trust your counsel, or you will have many sleepless nights. If any of these elements are missing, you should go elsewhere.
If you felt like your counsel was distracted or rushed and didn’t have time for you, or that he or she was evasive, rude, did not seem to connect with you, or otherwise did not appear to be intelligent, organized, and attentive, those are red flags that warn of danger ahead. Follow your instincts just as you would when meeting any other person – if something doesn’t sit well, don’t ignore it. Identify the problem and decide if it warrants hiring someone else.
The Engagement Letter
Okay… You have cruised through the interview with flying colors. You have thought it over carefully, and have tentatively decided to hire the attorney. Everything is done and you can just relax, right? Wrong. Not quite yet.
You have one more hurdle to clear: You must carefully read and understand the engagement letter that you will likely be asked to sign. Read it all. Put it down and read it again. Ask your lawyer questions about anything you don’t understand, or that doesn’t match what you understood from your meeting with counsel. Don’t be timid. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. And don’t sign the letter until all your questions are answered, and all the issues are resolved.
Congratulations – you signed the letter and officially have a lawyer. As with most things in life, there are no guarantees – but you have been diligent and can therefore be reasonably confident that you made the right decision. Relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy life as it unfolds!