Five Things to Look For When Hiring an Attorney
You need a lawyer. Whatever your legal issue, it is uniquely yours. You want a lawyer who can handle your problem as expertly, inexpensively, and as efficiently as possible. There are many qualities that make for successful attorney-client relationships, but what are they? What traits should you look for in the lawyer who would be best suited to assist you?
If you have a case, look for an attorney that possesses as many of the following qualities as possible:
One of the most important things to look for in a potential attorney is experience – i.e. experience the lawyer and their law firm have in handling matters similar to those which you are facing. There can be no substitute for experience. Just as you would not necessarily trust an inexperienced mechanic with your vehicle, or an inexperienced caretaker for your children, you are more likely to trust an experienced lawyer – for good reason.
But how do you find a lawyer with the right experience for your issue? It starts with asking the right questions:
- How long has the attorney been practicing law?
- Have they handled cases in the area in which you find yourself seeking legal representation?
- How many similar cases have they handled?
- Are they familiar with the law that governs the issue facing you?
- Other areas of inquiry to consider:
- Did they obtain their legal education at a reputable, accredited and well-respected law school?
- Are they respected by their peers?
- Have they been asked to provide continuing legal education presentations for other lawyers?
- Have they been chosen by their peers to serve in leadership roles in various Bar activities and organizations?
- Does their firm have a deep bench of legal talent with a collection of lawyers, paralegals, and other support staff who are capable of handling the details of even the most complex aspects of your legal issues?
All of these questions should be researched and investigated before you choose a lawyer to represent you, no matter what the legal issue might be. Before you make a call to the loudest voice on television or the flashiest, most high-tech ad on the internet, look beyond the slick marketing and do your research about the real experience the lawyer and/or law firm you are considering has.
2. Legal Fees
One of the first things most people consider when they think about going to see a lawyer is “how much is this going to cost?” This is a great question and one you should ask your attorney before you hire them.
At Hare Wynn, we utilize a fee structure referred to as a “contingency fee arrangement.” This means that we only earn a fee if we succeed in making a monetary recovery for our client. Then, a percentage of that recovery becomes our fee. If for some reason we do not achieve a recovery, there is no fee for our time or out-of-pocket expenses.
Such contingency fee arrangements are not the norm in the legal world. Many firms charge hourly rates, which may differ depending on the experience or seniority of the lawyer handling the work. Some lawyers require their clients to pay up-front retainers before the lawyer will even begin to work on their case.
During your initial meeting with your lawyer, ask what their fee structure will be for your case. Ask them to put it in writing. If they are not willing to do that, walk away. There is no reason for you to be left guessing what your legal work may cost. Of course, in an hourly rate fee arrangement, you will also want to discuss how many hours might be involved in the work, how often you will be billed, and what detailed time accounting will be provided with their invoices.
As mentioned earlier, our firm generally does not require the client to pay the litigation costs. Make sure you know whether those costs will be your responsibility up-front, pay-as-you-go, or deducted from your recovery, if any. You also want to ask if you will be responsible for fees and costs, even if the case turns out not to go your way.
Don’t be bashful. Lawyers are sometimes as reluctant to discuss fees as you may be hesitant to bring the topic up in the first place. If your lawyer doesn’t break the ice on this topic, do it yourself. Both of you will be better prepared to move forward if you have the fee and expense arrangement ironed out during your first meeting.
If you are like me, it is very frustrating to call someone, leave a message, and then never get a return call. It makes you wonder if you really just don’t matter to them.
A lawyer who doesn’t make an effort to get back in touch with their clients promptly is doing both the client and their law practice a disservice. While it is true that lawyers are often out of the office in court, taking depositions, or meeting with experts, you should expect that on those occasions, the lawyer’s staff should do all they can to address your needs.
At Hare Wynn, we find more and more that our communication with clients comes through e-mails and even texts. Regardless of the method of communication used, a prompt response time should be the norm, not the exception. When you hire your lawyer, discuss your preferred method of communicating with them. Discuss how often you should expect to hear from them. Often, cases take many months, and sometimes years, to bring to a conclusion. There will naturally be times when there may not be much news to discuss, but should you ever want an update on your case, simply say so.
When you do speak to your lawyer, do not be hesitant to ask questions, even if you need to write them down beforehand so you don’t forget what you wanted to ask. There is no “dumb” question. If you don’t understand something about your case or want anything at all explained, simply ask. A good lawyer will do their best to explain even the most complex concepts in an easy to understand manner.
When you enter into a lawyer-client relationship, there should be a special confidence that comes with any discussion you have with them. In virtually every case, the lawyer is duty-bound to protect the privacy of anything you talk about or share with them. While there are some exceptions, for the most part, the attorney-client “privilege” makes what you say to your lawyer a secret. Be honest with them. A lawyer can rarely help a client that does not provide accurate and complete information.
Whatever your situation, communicating with your attorney should be a normal part of the legal engagement. It is one of the most important parts of a successful outcome for anyone seeking legal advice.
Availability means two things:
- The attorney will be the one who actually represents you in your case
- The attorney will be responsive at all times to you
It may be hard to believe, but many attorneys with larger firms – especially in the personal injury practice – don’t actually handle the cases themselves. They may be the advertising front-man, but in reality, one of their associates does most, if not all, of the work.
Further, an attorney should be responsive to you at all times, and keep up clear lines of two-way communication with you, their client. The relationship between an attorney and a client is an important one – crucial, even – when it comes to the success of your case. The more you communicate, the more successful the outcome will be.
No one wants an attorney who is distant, unapproachable, and unavailable. If you’re embroiled in a legal action, the last thing you want is to not be able to reach your lawyer should you need him or her. After all, you likely have concerns and worries. You’ll undoubtedly have questions, often many of them. All you want are answers – and reassurance from time to time that your case is in good hands.
What’s the difference between communication and availability? Lawyers can have good communication in that they keep you apprised of what’s happening with your case – but that doesn’t mean they’re available to handle your concerns and answer your questions. And it doesn’t mean they are giving your case the personal, hands-on attention it deserves.
A responsive attorney can tremendously reduce stress and worry. An unresponsive attorney will only compound those concerns until they consume you. Be careful when selecting your attorney, and try to find one who is not just dedicated to your case, but who is also dedicated to being available to you when you are in need.
5. Honest Advice
It probably sounds like a bad joke, but believe it or not, honesty is something you can – and should – expect in an attorney, especially one who will be working for you.
When we talk about honesty, we’re referring to an attorney who will evaluate your case for its strengths, but will also be upfront with you about any potential issues they foresee. An exceptional attorney will give you their honest opinion of what they think about your case and a realistic estimate of your case’s timeline.
To explain this, we’ll offer a contrast: an attorney who gives you a guarantee. Guarantees aren’t worth the breath it takes to give them, and they’re usually the mark of an unscrupulous attorney – or, at the least, an attorney who is desperate for your business.
The truth is this: no attorney should ever guarantee an outcome. Instead, attorneys should give you a realistic picture of what is likely to happen based on the facts of the case and the attorney’s knowledge and experience. Note that even a very confident assessment is not the same as a guarantee.
Honesty is crucial to the success of your case from the very beginning. Otherwise, you can waste a lot of time and effort with your case, ending up with unmet expectations. For instance, right before the verdict or settlement conference is the wrong time for an attorney to finally give you their honest assessment of your case. They should be very direct in telling you not just how much money they think you can get (which is very difficult to predict for any attorney and shouldn’t be the focus of your relationship with your lawyer) but also your chances of finding success. And this should happen consistently throughout the process, even from the beginning.
At the end of the day, honesty is an underrated, essential part of any successful legal outcome. If we’re not honest with you, we’re not serving your best interests – only ours.
Questions? Hare Wynn is Here to Help.
We invite you to take a serious look at any attorney you are thinking about hiring for your case and making sure he or she fits all five of the characteristics above. You deserve nothing less than the best representation you can find. And you usually only get one shot with your case – so you better make it count.
Call (855) 997-9319 or contact us online for inquiries.