Last week you learned about being your own attorney. Well, if that is not for you, then you are going to need to select a lawyer to address your legal needs. Venturing into the world of finding a lawyer may seem daunting. You may not know who to call. Should you reach for the phone book? The newspaper? The computer? If you need a lawyer, or think you might, you should start your search promptly. If you delay this, you run risks and create unnecessary stress. For example, if you are a Colorado resident and are served with a lawsuit, you have twenty days to answer. If you start searching for an attorney right away, you will have a choice of available attorneys. You can conduct a couple of interviews and hire a lawyer who has a few days to assist you in preparing a timely response.
The following should be considered to ensure that you do not just hire a lawyer, but that you engage someone who will quickly become: a trusted adviser.
1. Seek a referral. The best place to start is to talk with your family, friends, and colleagues about lawyers they recommend. These people can tell you about their experiences and whether they were satisfied with their attorneys. While your parents’ estate planning lawyer may not be able to defend you against the crime of which you have been accused, good lawyers will usually point you in the direction of other good lawyers.
2. Arrange for a meeting. Meet with the lawyer you are considering hiring to get a feel of whether you will be able to work with that lawyer. Be aware that many lawyers charge for an initial consultation, so to make the most of your time be prepared to present a brief, clear summary of your legal issue. A good lawyer will explain your options and the legal procedures you will encounter at your initial consultation.
3. Look for a good fit. Make sure the lawyer you are considering hiring has experience in handling your specific legal issue. Most lawyers concentrate in one or more areas of law. It is also important that your lawyer has knowledge of the judge or legal environment you are facing. Finally, you should consider the lawyer’s personality and approach to the case. You do not need to become friends with your lawyer, but your lawyer should be someone that you can work with. At the minimum, you should ensure that your trusted adviser listens to you, answers your questions, and respects your wishes as to the direction that the case goes.
4. Learn how you will be charged. Lawyers may charge an hourly fee, a one-time flat fee, or a fee based upon a percentage of the amount awarded to you at the end of the case. The fee depends on the type of case and the attorney’s practice. Ask the attorney about how small fees, such a copying, faxing, and filing are assessed. Usually a retainer, or advance payment, is required and your attorney should explain how that money will be handled. Learn whether the lawyer works alone or has a paralegal and administrative support staff. Paralegals and support staff can sometimes complete tasks at a lower rate, which will likely save you money in the long run.
5. The Three As: Availability, Affability, and Ability. How quickly you can secure an appointment for an initial consultation should tell you something about your lawyer’s availability. Your trusted adviser should return your phone calls and e-mails within a reasonable time. Your lawyer should be a person you can trust to be honest with you through difficult times. Your lawyer should have the experience to provide you with current legal advice, as well as what to expect from the judge who may decide the outcome of your case.
The bottom line is that your lawyer should be a trusted adviser, especially in tough times. You will be able to rely on your lawyer as a source of advice and support. Because your relationship with your lawyer is trust-based, taking the time to select a lawyer that will be candid and honest with you will pay off in the end. In closing, an old adage comes to mind – “They that will not be counseled, cannot be helped.”
Originally published in The Steamboat Local