There are many reasons to hire legal counsel, from needing representation after an auto accident to needing assistance drafting an estate plan. It is likely that during your lifetime, you will need the help of a lawyer. This may seem like a daunting task; there are many lawyers vying for your business and they all have different backgrounds, specialties and business practices. Here are five important factors to consider before hiring a lawyer to help you make the right choice.
1. Experience and Specialty
A family lawyer will have a very different skill set and experience base than a medical malpractice attorney. A criminal defense attorney will specialize in cases much different than a tax attorney will. When hiring legal counsel, be aware of the lawyer’s specialty and ultimately select one that suits your situation best. This does not always mean you need to choose a lawyer with the most years of law experience. A lawyer with ten years of family law experience may not have as much expertise in medical malpractice law, for example, as a lawyer one year out of law school. You will want a lawyer that has significant experience handling cases like your own. This will not only increase your confidence in his or her abilities but increase your chances of a successful legal outcome as well.
2. Fee Schedules
Every law practice and lawyer has their own way to bill clients. Some bill a standard fee, or a fee that is affixed and agreed upon up front. Some bill a consultation fee and then an hourly rate; you could ask for an estimate up front, but circumstances in your case could change and lengthen the amount of time required and increase the amount of money you owe in legal fees. Other lawyers only claim payment if you receive a settlement or win the case; this type of fee is called a contingency fee, and usually amounts to some percentage of your settlement. Whatever arrangement you make with your lawyer, make sure that all fee and payment details are understood and in writing. This eliminates confusion or misunderstanding throughout the legal process.
With most relationships, both personal and professional, communication is key. Not only do you want open and comfortable communication with your legal counsel, you also want the communication to be complete and ongoing. You want to be kept abreast of the legal details and standing of your case. Recommendations and guidance from your lawyer throughout the legal process is also important. Make sure that you understand your lawyer’s communication style and that he understands yours. Be sure to express your communication and accessibility expectations up front so that all parties involved feel informed and communication is easy.
4. Feel Comfortable
All lawyers have a different personality and working style. Some may be more direct and succinct while others may be more warm and sociable. Make sure you feel comfortable with your legal counsel and that your personalities are compatible. It is likely that you will need to work closely with him or her during your case. It is also likely that you will need to divulge personal details and facts to your lawyer, so make sure you have selected a lawyer you trust, have confidence in, and who shares your philosophy as to how your case should be handled. It is important that your lawyer approaches your case in a way that you feel is appropriate.
Do some research into the legal professional or team you are considering hiring. Look at the outcome of cases they have handled that are similar to yours. This will give you a good idea of their legal abilities and reputation. Ask for references. Listen to referrals from family and friends.They will likely give you valuable insight into the legal process with that particular lawyer or legal team (such as their honesty, punctuality, availability, professionalism, etc). It might even be beneficial to ask other lawyers about the reputation of the lawyer you are considering. Take all of these things together and make a decision that makes sense for you and your situation.
Hiring a lawyer can be stressful and time-consuming. It is likely that if you are seeking out legal counsel, there are circumstances in your life that are burdensome and stressful as well. The tips mentioned above can help you save time and make a smarter decision for you and your legal case. Invest the time to choose the right lawyer to ensure a successful legal process and outcome.
Lauren Hill writes for Cook and Wiley, a court reporting company in Richmond, VA.