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By Valerie S. Johnson
Choosing a lawyer is like picking a hairdresser, doctor or accountant. You don’t just pick one out of the phone book. You want someone who is competent and experienced. More importantly, you must be very comfortable with this person. You are going to trust them with some important and intimate details of your life and you want to work with them in the most cost-effective manner.
One of the basic ways to ensure this is to interview three potential lawyers before you hire one. Ask your friends, family, and co-workers if they have any recommendations. This will give you a good start on finding a quality lawyer.
It’s important to remember that lawyers are in many ways like doctors — often you need a specialist. The attorney who handled your brother-in-law’s drunk driving arrest is not necessarily the best choice if you’re looking for a lawyer to prepare your will.
One of the first questions to ask is whether your prospective attorney has the relevant experience. If the lawyer lacks experience in the particular area where you’re seeking representation, it may take them longer to do the work, and this may result in the work being more expensive for you. Even worse, they may get it wrong. You wouldn’t want to be a heart surgeon’s very first patient, would you? Especially if she is trying brain surgery for a change.
Laws on some issues vary from state to state, so make sure your prospective attorney is admitted to practice in the right place (Isn’t it odd that lawyers “practice” law and doctors “practice” medicine? You’d think from all those years of training and work they would finally be getting it right) You may need a lawyer who is admitted in the state where you live. Or you may need one who practices in the state where your slip-and-fall accident happened.
You want to avoid hiring a lawyer who will not take the time to explain everything to you. Understanding legalese can be tricky. It is definitely worth spending time and money to make sure you fully comprehend the effect of any legal documents before you sign them.
You will also want to ask for a free initial consultation. Sometimes a lawyer needs to hear your whole story to determine if they can help you. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for a free consultation or a reduced rate consultation to make sure that the lawyer is the correct one for your case.
Absolutely do not be coy when asking about the lawyer fees and charges that you will be responsible for. Make sure to determine whether you will be charged on a time basis (you pay for the lawyer’s time spent working for you), a fixed fee basis (you pay a predetermined amount for the job), or a contingency basis (you pay a percentage of the amount you win or recover). You want to be crystal clear so that there are no surprises on your bill.
You will also want to get a fee estimate from any prospective attorney. When making your final selection, do not automatically pick the least expensive lawyer, or assume that the priciest one with the swanky office will be the best. As with many important choices in life, go with your gut feeling.