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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Valentino

How to choose the right attorney...

Many people will often ask, how do I know which attorney to choose? This is a difficult question to answer. The choice in selecting an attorney is as unique as a snowflake. Each person’s legal needs vary, each lawyer’s experience and fees vary, and how the individual or company interacts with the attorney all play significant roles in choosing the right fit. However, the following list of five qualifications and considerations will make the task easier.

1. Are they licensed?

This may seem silly, but with the bevy of misinformation online today, and fraudulent persons looking to take advantage of unsuspecting and trusting people, businesses and consumers must be careful in choosing their professional service providers.

This can be especially true in a field many people are unable to evaluate meaningfully, such as accounting or medicine. A good place to start when choosing an attorney is by checking into your state’s attorney regulatory body. Attorneys must be registered in the states they are practicing, and these groups can provide a reliable source for determining whether you can trust what an attorney or firm is posting online.

For those located in Illinois, you can search for an attorney you are considering, and find out if they are licensed, by going to:

2. What area of law do they practice?

Although an attorney can represent you in any area of law, except patent law which requires a separate license, the attorney you choose should be familiar with the area of law you need help with. If you are looking to get divorced, for example, it isn’t overly helpful to hire an attorney that has only done real estate closings.

This isn’t to say, however, that your attorney won’t do a good job for you simply because what you need isn’t their primary focus area. Much of what makes an attorney successful is their individual diligence and professionalism. The experience an attorney gains by honing his or her skills in a particular field, though, provides an added bonus. Through repetitive casework, the attorney can predict the outcome of your situation given the nuances of individual cases he or she has handled in the past and likely has insight into how particular judges may view certain fact patterns.

For those that want to understand more about how the law is and isn’t predictable, check out this fabulous article:

Osbeck, Mark K., "Lawyer as Soothsayer: Exploring the Important Role of Outcome Prediction in the Practice of Law" (2018). Law & Economics Working Papers. 152.

3. How do you feel about them?

Personality is a key component to developing a strong and fruitful relationship with your attorney. It is vital that you are able to establish good chemistry and can “get along” with your legal representative. The legal process, whether buying a home, becoming a citizen, or fighting a lawsuit can be daunting and overwhelming.

One of the key components to a successful representation is an honest and transparent client. An attorney cannot do his or her job if they are operating in the dark. However, a demanding, insensitive, or dismissive attorney cannot gain the confidence of his or her client. It is central to achieving their shared goals that an attorney and his or her client can trust one another and feel comfortable working with the other. After all, how can you be expected to take the advice of someone you cannot trust?

For some information about the psychology behind the attorney-client relationship, check out:

4. How much should I be getting charged for this?

One of the most difficult things to determine is how much you should be getting charged for a lawyer’s services. Lawyers are often accused of unnecessary or over billing, and unfortunately, this can often be the case. The attorney you choose should be clear from the beginning about how much your case should cost. Fees cannot always be calculated up front and can dramatically change under certain circumstances. However, your lawyer should be able to clearly explain how fees are calculated and how they may change before they begin “racking up the bill” on your case.

Generally, there are three types of fee structures: hourly, fixed, and contingent.

a. Hourly fees are fees paid by the hour and attorneys may bill in minimum increments. For example, opening an email from you that is one sentence long may still render ten minutes of fees if they bill in one-tenth increments. It is important to know if your attorney has minimum billing increments and for what services they will be charging you. In smaller markets, you can expect to pay somewhere between $100-200 per hour. In larger markets, you should expect to pay twice as much, or more for highly specialized areas like tax law.

b. Fixed fees are similar to a bid on a construction project. A lawyer typically has an idea of the time involved in compelting a particular legal project, such as drafting a will, and will charge a flat or fixed fee for his or her services. This can be a great benefit to a client, as an attorney may charge far less than if billing on an hourly basis. Attorneys will often list their fixed or flat fee services on a web page and consumers can “shop” around to get the best pricing available. (The cheapest price isn’t always the right choice and considering the other factors in this article are still key to choosing the right fit for you.)

c. Contingent fees are based on the outcome of your case and are often calculated as a percentage of the amount a person wins in a lawsuit. Contingent fees may or not cover the costs of litigation, however, and clients should be mindful to find out if they have the funds to start a lawsuit on their own. Many firms will advance the costs of litigation if they feel the client’s case is meritorious. Typically, a contingent fee is between 1/4 and 1/3 of what the client wins.

To find out how to avoid getting ripped off, take a look at this article form Business Insider:

5. Do other people like this attorney?

One of the best ways to determine if an attorney you are considering is right for you is to see what other people are saying about them. Many law firm and attorney websites list testimonials from past clients. This can be an invaluable resource, and you can see how other individuals like yourself feel about the lawyer you are considering.

Review and directory sites such as Avvo and FindLaw can help you find a lawyer in your area and provide consumer reviews. Many attorneys also have Google profiles which list ratings and comments by businesses and consumers. Still, there is no substitute for meeting an attorney personally and getting a feel first-hand for his or her fit with your expectations and ideals.

Check out these lawyer review sites:

There are many other factors that can play into selecting the attorney right for you or your business. Below you can find a list of sites that are dedicated to identifying and critiquing the best ways to evaluate and select an attorney. Remember, choosing an attorney shouldn’t be a simple as selecting which soda to have with dinner, and choosing the wrong one can have a lasting negative impact on your emotional well-being as well as your pocket book. Choosing the right one, on the other hand, can make navigating the legal challenges facing you less uncertain and without a big bill at the end of the day.

Additional resources:

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