You may be in a situation where you are asking yourself ‘man, I think I may need a lawyer for this,’ whether you are starting up a new business and need some contracts, need advice on how to organize your business, or you think you are about to get into a legal battle with a former business partner. But before you start looking for attorneys, it’s good to know what you are looking for and how to evaluate an attorney prior to hiring. I’m going to first lay out how to find look for an attorney then the questions you can ask when speaking to an attorney:
How to Search for an Attorney
- Start with your networks. If you’ve had friends or family who had a similar legal issue, ask them first. It’s a good way to get some names of lawyers who have been tried and you can gauge whether an attorney will handle your case well.
- Call Your Local Bar Association. Another way to get a list of attorneys is if you simply go to a search engine and type ‘[your county] bar association.’ Many bar associations have a list of vetted attorneys that they refer cases to. The bar association can also guide you to the type of attorney you may need.
- Search online. Of course it’s 2019 and you can easily get on the internet and search away. There are some drawbacks to this method because 1) you are not sure what type of lawyer you need and 2) it may be difficult to vet them, especially in this day and age where good marketing can cover up bad lawyering. Regarding knowing what type of a lawyer, be clear about your issue rather than the type of lawyer you are looking for. For example, since I practice contract law, I had an potential client who asked for a prenuptial agreement. Although prenuptial agreements are technically contracts, a family attorney is better suited for this role. So again, when calling law firms, explain your situation more and the law firm can get a better sense if they can serve you. With respect to the vetting issue, I will address that in my section.
How to Vet Attorneys
Now that you have a list of attorneys, you want to know who to even bother calling and scheduling an appointment with. Note that not all attorneys offer free consultations and it varies based on the type of case. Personal injury attorneys most commonly offer free consultations, but most other areas of law do not. However, you can ask some basic questions such as hourly rate, which I will explain below, to the receptionist. Some attorneys, like myself, apply the consultation payment to the first invoice if you hire the attorney, effectively making the consultation free. But before calling, there are some independent methods you can try first before calling.
- Search the attorney on the state bar’s website to see if the attorney has been disciplined. In Illinois, the Illinois Attorney Registration Disciplinary Commission is responsible for reporting whether an attorney is currently licensed to practice and past ethical actions taken against the attorney.
- Visit the attorneys’ website and read their biography. The attorneys biography should give a good sense as to how experienced and diligent an attorney is. Most attorneys not only list their academic and professional credentials but also articles published, speaking engagements, and awards. You can also see if the attorney regularly writes blog posts or other articles. This shows that the attorney is likely staying on top of the law and other legal trends.
- Do an internet search of the attorney. Any online reviews of the attorney easily show up with a basic internet search. Other articles authored by the attorney may also appear. I do have a word of caution about reviews, however. Many reviews, both positive are easily faked. Some attorneys engage in some shady practices and have their employees write reviews. So pay attention to the quality of the review and how detailed the reviewer is about their experience. On the flipside, some angry clients or people who have never hired the firm may also write bad reviews due to a vendetta. Some attorneys may write a response to those negative reviews. In any case, take online unverified reported praise and criticism for what it’s worth.
Questions to Ask Your Attorney
Ok now you may have narrowed down your list and want to start calling. Here are some basic questions to ask your attorney:
- What is your hourly rate?
- What is your billing increment? (Some attorneys bill at 1/10 per hour and some attorneys bill at 1/4 per hour)
- What is your attorney-client communication policy? (ie, do clients have direct access to attorneys)
- What is your approach in assessing and winning a case?
- How many cases have you handled that are similar to mine?
Lastly, once you meet your attorney or speak to her over the phone, assess how comfortable she is with you and your fact pattern. Feel free to use your ‘gut’ to determine your comfort level with the attorney. Regardless of how experienced an attorney is, keep in mind you will be engaging with the attorney on a regular basis and you want to feel that you are important and taken care of.
If you need an attorney, do not hesitate to email me at [email protected] or call my office to (630) 517-5529.