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Top Things to Consider When Hiring an Attorney

Posted by Mary R. LaSota, Esquire in Law Firm Practice | 3 comments

For many, finding and hiring an attorney can be intimidating. It shouldn’t be. Just ask the right questions. Do your homework, and consider the following.

Identify your Legal Needs. First, identify your legal needs. Do you need a Will? Are you facing a divorce? Are you starting a business? Once you have identified your legal needs, you now need to find an attorney that practices in that area of the law. You should use an attorney with estate planning experience to draft your Will, a divorce attorney to draft your divorce papers, and business attorney to draft your partnership agreement. Why? The law is too vast, too complex for an attorney to dabble in multiple areas of the law. A truly great attorney will focus on one or two practice areas, and go deep in those practice areas. For example, within the realm of family law there is marriage, divorce, custody, civil unions, domestic partnerships, adoption and surrogacy, and child abuse and abduction. Likewise, estate planning encompasses probate, succession and intestate laws, federal, estate, inheritance and gift tax, and property law. Make sure you not only hire an attorney that practices in the area that you need, but that he or she does it often.

How do you confirm the attorney has the expertise you need? The internet contains unlimited information. Use it. If you receive a recommendation from a family member or friend, research the attorney. Check out the attorney’s profile on LinkedIn. If you cannot access LinkedIn, search the attorney’s website. Most websites will provide detailed information about the attorney’s practice areas, niche areas, and areas of expertise. If all else fails, interview the attorney, and ask.

Not all Attorneys are Created Equal. Remember not all attorneys are created equal. After you confirm that the attorney practices in the legal area that you need, make sure that the attorney has kept up to date on the law. The law changes at warp speed. Is the attorney staying current on those changes? Are they actively pursuing the practice of law? Or have they checked out? Keep in mind that a person’s age or their years in practice may or may not have any bearing on the quality of work done. So don’t hesitate to consider an attorney that graduated from law school a few years ago.

Client Services. The legal field is notoriously slow to adopting the latest technology and other business developments. But, that does not mean your attorney should not be adopting the latest advancements. In fact, Pennsylvania attorneys have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology. Therefore, your attorney should be able to keep you up to date using the mode of communication that you prefer (i.e., email, video conferencing, and text messaging) within reason. A great attorney will text, respond to your email, and answer your phone calls within 24 hours or less. An attorney’s willingness to communicate with his or her client is an important indicator in client services. Make sure you confirm what forms of communication your attorney will use. If your attorney continually fails to respond to you, FIRE HIM OR HER. If he or she is not paying attention to you, then your legal matter is also likely being ignored.

Think Value.  Attorneys work either on an hourly fee, contingency fee or a flat fee. Admittedly attorneys’ fees seem high, but remember that you are paying for deep expertise and an understanding of complex legal matters that you likely could not handle on your own. A quick read of Wills for Dummies or Divorce for Dummies will not replace years of legal study and experience. There are nuisances in the law that are not covered in books or explained on the Internet. Remember, you are not only paying for a legal service, but also for the assurance that you will be spared monetary and other headaches in the future.
Rates for legal services vary based on location, experience of the attorney, and the nature of the matter. Rates can vary from $50 an hour to a $1,000 an hour or more. In rural areas and small towns, lawyers tend to charge between $100 to $200 an hour.  In major metropolitan areas, the norm is probably closer to $200 to $400 per hour.

When shopping for legal services, always ask potential attorneys to fully explain their fees and billing practices. You have every right to ask these detailed questions. An attorney’s willingness to discuss fees is another important indicator of client services. Once you decide on an attorney, make sure the attorney provides an engagement letter outlining the legal services covered and the fees involved.

Let Go of Negative Notions.  Finally, let go of any negative notions you may have about attorneys. Attorney jokes aside, 99.9% of the attorneys work hard for their clients, appreciate their clients, and strive to provide excellent client services.

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Comments (3)
  1. Pingback: Heirs: Beware of Heir-Hunter Tactics - LaSota Law, LLC

  2. Tara Jones says:

    I appreciate that you mentioned value. My mother is struggling with the idea of hiring a lawyer to help her with her divorce because she and my father are still amicable, but you’re right. Reading a book won’t make you an expert and there is so much to be gained from hiring someone who is. At the very least, she’ll be able to have the peace of mind that everything is getting taken care of thoroughly and properly. I’m going to talk to her again and bring up what you said about in that section – hopefully it will help her feel okay with hiring one!

  3. Marie Watson says:

    Thanks for explaining some things to consider when choosing an attorney. You make a good point about making sure to identify your legal needs. I would think that it is important to hire a lawyer who has experience dealing with similar cases to yours. It seems like it is always more comforting to know that you are working with someone with the proper experience.

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