Choosing a lawyer is an important decision. If you or a loved one are in a lawsuit, including a divorce or child custody case, or are charged with a crime, the choice of a lawyer is one of the most important decisions to be made for the situation. The most important factor about the lawyer you choose should be: you have a high degree of trust and confidence in their advice and judgment such that you can rely on it to help you make the most important decisions for your case.
Choosing a lawyer is a difficult decision for several reasons:
- There is no real way to assess a lawyer’s quality based on previous case outcomes. Each case is very different and you just will not have access to the information you would need to know about the quality of the work done in prior cases and whether a favorable outcome had anything to do, directly or indirectly, with the caliber of the lawyer. Cases get dismissed for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes cases are won simply because the other side didn’t show up or behaved so poorly that anyone would have won. This makes hiring a lawyer based solely off of a referral difficult too, because of the lack of the most important information and context necessary to compare it to your situation.
- There is no real way to assess a lawyer’s quality based solely on years of experience. Experience has some value, but it is easy to overstate the value of experience. There are many lawyers who have been practicing for over 20 years who are not skilled in the courtroom. There are lawyers who are less than 10 years out of law school who are very good. Think about other service providers: there are hair stylists, restaurants, hotels and car dealers that you know of who have been around for decades but you would not use them for any reason.
- Reviews and awards do not tell you enough about the lawyer. Online reviews give some information, but you do not know: the motives of the reviewer, the relationship between the reviewer and the attorney (was the reviewer a family member of the attorney, or were they the opposing party in a case?), nor do you know about the experiences of dozens of people who hired the lawyer but did not take the time to write a review, good or bad. Awards are difficult too — awards that are based on “peer recognition” may be little more than a popularity contest. In the last decade, there have been a number of companies pop up that give lawyers a vanity plaque and a badge for their website in exchange for a couple hundred dollars. Some have tested the “vetting process” for recognition from these companies and sent in a check and received a plaque and a badge for their dog! There are some services who provide ratings and recognitions for attorneys that are legitimate services, but you would need to know which are real and which are fake. Many attorneys do not even know the difference between the ratings services.
Here are some tips for choosing a lawyer:
- If you have a referral, ask the referring person Why? What was it about their experience that was positive? Does the referring person have other attorney experiences that compare or contrast with the lawyer you are being referred to? If the referring person is an attorney, ask them why they think the lawyer you are being referred to is qualified.
- For any lawyer you are considering, look at their education and involvement as a lawyer. Be wary of any lawyer who can only provide information about what they did in law school and before. The practice of law is a very demanding occupation, and the best lawyers are continually learning to stay at the front of their field.
- If you are looking at the awards, recognition and badges on the lawyer’s website, look into what the badges mean. Google them. Some organizations such as Best Lawyers, Chambers USA, and Super Lawyers give a great deal of information about their process for selecting and recognizing attorneys. Others are fake. Some badges are not ratings and show that the lawyer is a member of an organization. Google the organization. Can anyone join? Is their membership selective or exclusive? What does it mean for a lawyer to be a member of that group?
- Is the attorney a "thought leader?" Have they had leadership posititions or articles published? If their articles are available online, read them. If they have videos available online, watch them. You can learn a lot about the lawyer's personality and knowledge from their publications.
- Most importantly, get in a room with them. Schedule a meeting. If they have a consultation fee, pay it. There are many lawyers who offer a free consultation and there are many lawyers who do not. Think about why a lawyer might charge for a consultation: They just want the money; They are busy; or They will actually give you a quality consultation and listen to you and talk to you about your situation. Think about why a lawyer might give a free consultation: They are not busy; They will not give you a lot of time; They will not give you valuable information for you to consider. Talk to the lawyer in the consultation and assess their personality. Does the lawyer listen to you? Does what they say make sense? Is what they say believable? Consider what you hear in the context of your research about the lawyer, the referral, their training, their awards and recognition, and other information that you could find about their knowledge and experience in that area of law. Ask the lawyer about their rate and billing practice.
Lawyers who are highly rated, experienced and know what they’re doing will charge higher rates and retainers. However, consider that they may ultimately be cheaper than a lawyer with a much, much lower rate and retainer. More experienced, knowledgeable and competent lawyers will be more efficient and goal-oriented, while less-experienced, less-knowledgeable and less-competent lawyers are likely to be less efficient, distracted by things that ultimately won’t matter to the outcome of your case, and less helpful to you in terms of advice and advocacy, and their incompetence could cost you in ways you don’t want to imagine.
- The lawyer talks bad about other lawyers, especially other lawyers you are considering
- The lawyer talks bad about your opposing party or their lawyer
- The lawyer doesn’t listen to you or seems distracted
- The lawyer guarantees or promises you an outcome
- The lawyer makes off-color comments
- The lawyer’s answers to your questions about the area of law for your situation seem wildly inconsistent with what other lawyers have said and are illogical and inconsistent with what you already discovered through your own research
- The lawyer tells you that they base their advice off of “gut instinct”
We charge for consultations. Our first meeting is about you and your situation and an early assessment of and conversations about what an action plan for your case might look like. We provide information before and in the consultation about our firm and about how we operate, and we ask you to complete an intake form about your circumstances. If you are already represented by a lawyer, we will not meet with you until your lawyer is discharged by you or has written notice that you want to meet with us for a second opinion. We do not talk bad about other lawyers. If you ask, we will give you a referral to other qualified lawyers to get a second and even a third opinion. Sometimes, depending on the urgency of the situation, we will say, “We know we have an interest in saying this because this is our job, but you definitely need a lawyer. It doesn’t have to be us, but if you don’t choose us, you should hire a lawyer as soon as possible.” We will tell you how we handle cases like yours and why we do things a certain way, and we will tell you exactly how we bill. If you wish, we will make a follow-up meeting with you later. Again, the most important thing for you is that you have confidence and trust in your lawyer, that they know what they’re doing and that you can rely on their advice and work.