Finding an Attorney – Know Some Basics

At some point in life, just about everybody is going to need an attorney for something. It may be as mundane as signing finance documents to close on the purchase of a home or writing a simple will to issues as serious as accident liability or criminal defense. Whatever the situation, it is important to have wise and competent counsel. The problem is, most of us don’t need the services of an attorney very often, may not know one, or know how to go about finding an attorney that’s right for you. Like most things in life, the more you know and the more you are prepared the better. Selecting an attorney is no different. Let’s start at the beginning and work through the process.

It may sound simple, but the starting point should be to define if and why you need an attorney. There are times when not having one, or putting off contacting one, can actually make things worse. Don’t fall for ads claiming you can write your own will, handle your own divorce or set up your own Limited Liability Company (LLC). It may be possible to so with some of the packages that are offered, but what you don’t get is important legal counsel to advise you of any legal vulnerabilities, how to be sure your rights are being protected or whether those documents will stand up if challenged in court. There’s some truth to the old axiom, “A person who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client.”

Once you’ve defined why you need an attorney, decide what type of attorney you need. Some attorneys are “general practitioners” while others are specialists in one particular area of law. If you are going to be involved in a personal injury case or a divorce, it may be wise to seek out an attorney who has experience specializing in that area.

Finding the right attorney is going to take a bit of work on your part. You can always start by checking the Yellow Pages or web sites, but the most effective means is to ask people you know or professionals in your community for referrals. You can also check with the state bar for a list of attorneys in your area as well as consult a legal referral service. Whatever you do or however you begin your search, you must do your due diligence. The more you know, the more satisfying the results of your search.

When you’ve narrowed your list of potential attorneys, the next step is to begin contacting them. That contact may be made by phone, or by scheduling a meeting, and many attorneys don’t charge for a “first consultation.” However, before scheduling such a meeting, be sure you understand whether there will be any fee involved. Through the process of choosing an attorney, remember that you are the consumer purchasing their services. Don’t be shy about asking questions. It’s always best to be a smart consumer.

During your search and consultation meetings, be prepared and specific about your expectations. If there are any documents that pertain to the situation you will be discussing, have them with you should they be needed for reference or verification of information. It is also a good time to talk about the attorney’s fees. Depending on the case, fees may differ. Some examples are:

Hourly: Many attorneys base their fees on an hourly rate. This can vary significantly depending on the experience of the attorney and the size of the law firm.

Flat Fee: Some cases may be charged a flat fee. For example, a simple divorce, bankruptcy or basic will may be handled for a set amount with any additional charges added like mileage or court fees.

Retainer: There may be times when an attorney asks for a certain amount up front to work as an account to draw against as the case progresses. In other instances, like for a business, an attorney may be retained on a continuing basis for an agreed upon fee.

Contingency: In this case, the attorney receives a percentage of the judgment as the fee. This is most common in personal injury and liability cases. The fee is paid once the court has set the judgment. If the judgment does not go in your favor, there is no fee.

Be sure you understand and agree to the fee schedule before signing an agreement with an attorney.

The last step in choosing an attorney is interviewing, checking credentials and references. When you hire an attorney, think of it as hiring an employee. In many ways, that’s what they are. They are working for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask about other cases they have had that are similar to yours and what was involved in the case. You need to know what the attorney’s previous experience is. He or she may have been practicing law for twenty years, but they may not have extensive experience with cases like yours.

Ask for references. A reputable attorney will not have a problem with this as long as giving you such information does not breech any attorney/client privilege. It may not be out of order to ask what the attorney’s success rate is. In some instances it may help give you an impression of their skill or complexity of the cases they handle. Ask what percent of the cases handled by their firm is normally devoted to cases like yours.

Be prepared to answer personal questions that may be relevant to your case such as information regarding your finances, marital status, lifestyle or criminal record. Should you be asked such questions, be truthful. Your attorney cannot be effective if you don’t tell them the truth, even if it’s embarrassing or you think it may hurt your case.

There can be a great deal involved in working with an attorney when you need one. It is important to find one you feel comfortable with and trust. Taking the steps discussed above is by no means a comprehensive list of everything you may need to do to select an attorney that is just right for you, but it will give you a good start.

Remember to be proactive, do your due diligence in your search and don’t be afraid to compare and ask questions. Choosing the right attorney is a big decision, but one that you can make with confidence when you have done your research and come prepared.

Insider Tips for Choosing Your Divorce Attorney or Mediator

Whether you’re a man or woman, the dumper or dumpee, one of the very first things you probably realized you needed to do to get divorced is that you need to hire an attorney. If you’re like most people, you probably asked a friend or family member who’s been divorced who they used and then promptly hired that attorney. It wasn’t until after you’d already plunked down your retainer that you had any idea of what working with this attorney would be like.

If this sounds like you, you might be in for some surprised. This article will help you to better educate yourself about what you can and should expect from your attorney. AND how to select a new one if you decide to adjust course on your representation.

If, however, you’ve not yet selected an attorney, then READ THIS BEFORE you retain one.

STEP 1: Develop your short-list of attorneys. You need to interview (yes, interview) at least 3 attorneys before deciding whom you want to represent you. Go ahead and ask your friends and family for referrals, if and only if, your friends and family felt comfortable with their attorney.

STEP 2: Decide on the questions you want to ask your short-list of attorneys. One of my attorney friends wrote a great article for my website – “How to Choose an Attorney”. You can check out her article on my website with the link below. In addition to the questions she suggests you use to interview your short list of attorneys, I also suggest you ask about the minimum billing increment. Attorneys typically bill by the hour for their services and have a minimum billing increment. What this means is that if an attorney has a minimum billing increment of 15 minutes and they receive a call from a client that lasts for 10 minutes, the attorney will bill their client for 15 minutes of time.

STEP 3: Schedule the interviews. Attorneys are busy people and you might not be able to get in to see them as quickly as you’d like. You probably knew this already on some level, but sometimes having the reminder helps.

STEP 4: Prepare for the interviews by getting yourself a notebook that you use to track the answers each of the attorneys provide to the interview questions you decided on in STEP 2.

STEP 5: Interview each of the attorneys on your short list. The key here is to remember that the attorney will work for you. You have the responsibility to make sure you’re choosing differently if your first choice doesn’t work. If you decide you need to choose differently, just start at STEP 1 again.

STEP 6: Select and retain the attorney you believe you will be best able to work with during your divorce. Once you’ve completed all of the interviews, allow yourself some time to review all the notes you took during each interview and then choose your attorney.

Choosing the correct attorney to represent you when you divorce is vitally important. Divorce changes your life in ways most people can’t predict. Because of the changes, you’re going to want someone in your corner who has YOUR best interests in mind. By following the 6 steps above you’ll be able to find the best attorney for you.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:

If you’ve not yet hired an attorney, follow the steps above. I rarely believe it’s a good idea to divorce without the help of an attorney or mediator. OK, I’ve not yet seen a case where it’s a good idea to divorce pro se. There are just too many things that can get misinterpreted in filing paperwork on your own. So, please, do yourself a favor and save future headaches by working with a professional now.

If you’ve already hired an attorney, remember your attorney works for you. It’s not unusual for me to hear stories from clients that their relationship with their attorney isn’t working. (These are the ones who hired me AFTER hiring their attorney.) What I remind them of is the fact that their attorney works for them If your attorney isn’t representing you the way you expect, then schedule some time to discuss your expectations. Most attorneys are more than willing to understand how best to serve their clients. Oftentimes, it only takes a simple conversation to clear the air and get things back on the correct path again.

The Top 11 Reasons Most Attorneys Don’t Do Marketing

1. Attorneys are trained skeptics.

Marketing requires faith and patience. Attorneys like to prod and poke a marketing effort until they can prove to their great satisfaction that there is no way it can work.

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2. Attorneys love to argue.

Most lawyers are smart. When it comes to embarking on unfamiliar enterprises, like marketing, they find it difficult to “be stupid” and benefit from the wisdom and experience of other experts.

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3. Attorneys are risk-averse.

The most prudent (and safest!) advice attorneys give is, “Don’t do it!” They live in a universe where mistakes result in liability, malpractice and large judgments. In marketing, mistakes are a necessary part of growth. Taking and managing risk are essential elements of marketing and growth. Attorneys like contracts and guarantees.

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4. Attorneys often know little about business.

Law school offered no courses on being business-owners. Any high school business student knows that marketing is an important and mandatory part of any business. This comes as a shock to attorneys who often conceive of themselves as belonging to some sort of 19th century guild. Attorneys were educated in an anti-marketing culture. They learned that they were in a “profession” where refi ned ladies and gentlemen did not make unseemly efforts to secure business. Such people were “ambulance chasers.” (The practice of law is a profession, but that practice takes place within a business entity called “a law fi rm” – subject to the laws of economics as any other business).

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5. Attorneys fixate on costs.

Most attorneys hate it when a prospective client plops themselves down in the lawyer’s offi ce and starts with “What’s all this going to cost?” Yet, that is the first question the attorney asks about marketing. Focusing on costs causes paralysis. Owners of law firms must focus on revenue generation and driving the top line.

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6. Attorneys like to dither.

High “fact-finders” on the Kolbe Index, they like to analyze things. They want to do extensive due diligence. They want to consult with all their colleagues. They enjoy thinking about action more than taking action, with its attendant risks. But action conquers fear. Life rewards action and punishes inaction. Fortune favors the bold.

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8. Attorneys lack perseverance.

If attorneys do get around to trying some form of marketing,
any bump on the road will throw them off. And there are always bumps in the road. Attorneys get excited about a new marketing program, and throw themselves into it passionately. Then after 45 days or so, life happens. A big case blows up. One of the kids gets sick. A check doesn’t come in. The marketing didn’t produce instant riches. The attorney decides he or she made a big mistake and gives up.

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9. Attorneys are uncomfortable with the idea of making money.

Most attorneys are motivated by a desire to serve people. Most subscribe to some form of the Judeo Christian ethic which is full of mixed messages about the pursuit of wealth. Most are conflicted, if not filled with guilt, about the profi t motive. Many secretly think that what they do is not worth the fee they charge, since it does not involve hours of hard, physical labor. These attorneys might be more motivated if they were to think about marketing and growth as “being able to serve the greatest number of people” rather than “making more money” or “being more successful.”

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10. Attorneys define themselves as attorneys — not as owners of a law firm.

This is the single most important error, and it is a contributing factor in all the others listed here. Attorneys do not understand that these are two completely different roles that require two completely different mind-sets and two completely different sets of skills. What attorneys believe to be their greatest asset (their skill at practicing law) is actually their greatest liability. They are too busy working in their business to work on it. In order to grow a practice and succeed, it is necessary for attorneys to conceive of themselves first and foremost as the owner of a business called a law firm, and only secondarily (if at all) as a practicing attorney.

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11. Attorneys are obsessed with what other attorneys think of them.

In no other business does the owner worry about how competitors esteem him or her. Attorneys are often afraid to make the slightest marketing effort for fear of being thought to be “undignified” or “overly aggressive.” Let me assure you that the owner of a lamp store does not care what the owner of the competing lamp store thinks — about anything.