One of the best ways to assess a lawyer’s legal ability is by interviewing them. Most attorneys will provide an initial consultation usually an hour or less at no charge. Below are a few questions to consider:
• What experience does the lawyer have in your type of legal matter?
• How long have they been in practice?
• What is their track record of success?
• What percentage of their caseload is dedicated to handling your type of legal problem?
• Do they have any special skills or certifications?
• What are their fees and how are they structured?
• Do they carry malpractice insurance? If so, how much?
• Who else would be working on your case and what are their rates?
• Do they outsource any key legal tasks for functions?
• What additional costs may be involved in addition to lawyer fees (postage, filing fees, copy fees, etc.)?
• How often will you be billed?
• Can they provide references from other clients?
• Do they have a written fee agreement or representation agreement?
• How will they inform you of developments in your case?
Keep in mind that a higher fee does not necessarily equate with a more qualified attorney. Consequently, a rock bottom fee may signal problems, inexperience, or incompetence. After meeting with the lawyer, you should ask yourself the following questions:
• Are the lawyer’s experience and background compatible with your legal needs?
• Did they provide prompt and courteous responses to your questions?
• Are they someone with whom you feel comfortable?
• Are you confident they possess the skills and experience to handle your case?
• Are you comfortable with the fees and how they are structured?
• Are you comfortable with the terms of the fee agreement and/or representation agreement?
Consulting a Law Directory
A Law Direct is a great resource for information about a law firm and its lawyers. This guide—which can be found online and at your local public and law libraries—is often used by lawyers when choosing legal talent in another jurisdiction. The directory includes basic practice profile data on virtually every lawyer in the United States and detailed professional biographies of leading lawyers and firms in 160 countries. It also includes lawyer and law firm ratings based upon peer reviews, which may help when choosing between two equally qualified candidates.
Asking Other Attorneys
Lawyers know the skill and reputation of other lawyers. Attorneys may be able to provide information about a fellow lawyer that you may not find in a book or online, such as information about a lawyer’s ethics, competence level, demeanour, practice habits, and reputation.
Conducting a Background Check
Before hiring any lawyer, contact the lawyer disciplinary agency in your state to confirm that they are in good standing as a member of the bar. For an online listing of each state’s lawyer disciplinary agency, review this directory of lawyer disciplinary agencies. You should always check references, especially if you located the attorney through the Internet. You can also check a lawyer’s peer review ratings online at Martindale.com. Peer review ratings provide an objective indicator of a lawyer’s ethical standards and professional ability, generated from evaluations of lawyers by other members of the bar and the judiciary in the United States and Canada.
Touring the Lawyer’s Office
You can tell a lot about an attorney from their law office. Request a brief tour of their office, beyond the office or conference room where you met with the lawyer. Is the law office neat, orderly, efficient and well-run? What kind of support staff does the lawyer employ? Does the staff appear friendly and helpful? Is the lawyer’s office local and easily accessible? Is a large portion of his office space unoccupied? Watch for red flags, such as mass disarray, unhappy staff members, and empty offices.
How to Find a Lawyer
If you are looking to hire a lawyer, you’ll find no shortage of legal talent. The United States holds 5% of the world’s population and 70% of its lawyers. Law schools awarded 43,588 J.D.s per year on average, up 11.5 percent since 2000, and the United States boasts one lawyer for every 200 U.S. citizens. With a record number of practicing lawyers in the U.S., finding a lawyer for your legal needs is no easy task. The best way to find a lawyer is through word of mouth and referrals. Wide variations exist in the skill level and expertise of each lawyer so recommendations from friends and acquaintances are a good way to locate quality legal talent. The nature of your legal problem will determine the type of lawyer you need to hire. Most lawyers concentrate their practice in a few legal specialties such as family law, criminal law, employment law, personal injury law, bankruptcy or civil litigation. Therefore, it is important to retain a lawyer with expertise and experience in the practice area for which you require his services. Below are a few of the best resources available to help you find a lawyer that fits your needs.
Word of Mouth and Referrals
Word of mouth and referrals from friends, relatives, neighbours, business associates, and acquaintances are the best way to find a lawyer. These individuals have no vested interest, financial or otherwise, in recommending a certain attorney and can communicate any positives or problems they encountered in their dealings with a particular attorney or law firm. While it is tempting to hire a friend or relative for your case, this may not be your best strategy. If the friend or relative specializes in an area of law outside your needs, he or she may not be competent to address your particular legal issue.
Local Bar Associations
Another great resource for finding a lawyer in your area is your local bar association. Most county and city bar associations offer lawyer referral services to the public although they do not necessarily screen for qualifications. The American Bar Association also maintains a database which offers assistance to consumers seeking legal help.
Lawyers can often recommend other lawyers in the legal community who can assist you with your specific needs. Legal circles are small and most lawyers will know several other lawyers who specialize in the practice area for which you seek advice. Lawyers are also aware of other lawyer’s reputations in a particular practice field. Keep in mind, however, that lawyers often receive referral fees when they refer a case to another lawyer which may influence their decision as to whom they recommend.
Becoming a lawyer is an enormous undertaking in terms of time commitment and financial investment. Law school and passing the bar can be arduous challenges. Your motivation can depend at times on knowing what’s really good about this profession, and being able to glimpse it out there on the horizon.
Lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals in the legal industry, and most attorneys earn salaries well above the national average. The median annual salary for all lawyers was $120,910 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, but the world’s top attorneys can pull in million-dollar annual incomes. Keep in mind, however, that not all lawyers make big bucks. It can depend on employer size, experience level, and geographic region. Lawyers employed in large law firms, major metropolitan areas, and in-demand specialties generally earn the highest incomes. Those who work in the public sector, not so much.
An Opportunity to Help Others
Lawyers are in a unique position to help individuals, groups, and organizations with their legal problems and to further the public good. Public interest lawyers champion legal causes for the greater good of society and help those in need of legal assistance who might not otherwise be able to afford attorneys. Lawyers in private practice often perform pro bono work to help low-income individuals and underserved portions of the population, such as the elderly, victims of domestic abuse, and children. In fact, many bar associations require that attorneys commit to a certain number of pro bono hours each year.
The Intellectual Challenge
Working as a lawyer is one of the most intellectually rewarding jobs on the planet. From helping to patent a trade secret, or devising a trial strategy, to forming a multi-million dollar merger, lawyers are problem-solvers, analysts, and innovative thinkers whose intellect is crucial to career success.
Diverse Practice Areas
Increased industry segmentation and specialization have led to a broad array of sub-specialties in the legal field. Lawyers can specialize in one or several niche areas, ranging from bread-and-butter practices such as employment law, foreclosure law, and civil litigation to specialties such as green law or intellectual property law.
Work Environments and Perks
The majority of lawyers work in law firms, government, and for corporations. In an age where cubicles have become the mainstay of the modern workplace, lawyers typically work in offices with four walls. Those in larger firms enjoy plush accommodations, ample support staff, and a variety of office perks ranging from gym memberships to box seats at sporting events.
Attorneys have stood at the center of society for centuries. They’re in a unique position to affect societal change as lawmakers and thought leaders. They write the laws, rule the courts, and hold influential positions in government. They’re in a position to impact top policymakers and leaders and to affect change around the globe. Some lawyers travel the country, or even the world, to participate in trials, depositions, arbitrations, and business deals. Others rub shoulders with business leaders, politicians, sports figures, and even celebrities. Cases are won and lost based on the quality of your legal team. Not all lawyers are equally skilled, competent or ethical. Knowing how to find a good lawyer, and how to avoid a bad one, is not always easy. Trust your instincts and keep an eye out for the red flags below.
Observing Their Work Habits
An attorney’s work habits are one of the largest indicators of competence. The following red flags may indicate that it’s time to find new legal representation.
• Unreturned Phone Calls: A lawyer, who fails to return phone calls promptly, or at all, does not place a premium on client service. They may be too busy with other cases, uncertain with how to proceed with your case or ignoring your matter altogether.
• Unanswered E-Mails: Like unanswered phone calls, unanswered emails can indicate that the lawyer is too busy, stressed or overwhelmed to handle your case or is not making your matter a priority.
• Missed Deadlines: Missing deadlines, especially court filing deadlines, can seriously damage your case. If a lawyer consistently misses deadlines, it is best to terminate the relationship and move on.
• Poor Attitude: A lawyer who displays a condescending, uncommunicative, rude, impatient or otherwise poor attitude may be difficult to work with. A poor attorney-client relationship may create conflict, tension, and ill-will.
• Lack of a Proper Calendaring System: A reliable, organized calendaring system is critical to meeting deadlines and prioritizing multiple obligations. A lack of a proper calendaring system can lead to missed deadlines and other disasters.
• A Promise of a Court Victory or Successful Outcome: An attorney should never promise his client a specific outcome, no matter how likely that outcome may be. Be wary of promises of a sure-fire victory.
• Refusal to Provide References: A refusal to provide references or let you talk with past clients indicates that the lawyer had problems with past clients that they do not want you to know about.
Examining Their Work Premises
A lawyer’s work premises, from the building location and exterior to the reception room, conference room and offices, can speak volumes about a lawyer’s work practices and clientele. Below are a few signs that all is not well.
• Office Space in a State of Disrepair: Office space or property in poor disrepair can signal financial problems on the part of the lawyer.
• A Large Number of Empty Offices: A high number of empty offices can signal significant employee turnover, too-rapid growth or financial problems.
• Unkempt, Disorderly Office: A messy, cluttered office is a red flag for disorganization and inefficiency. Perhaps the lawyer thrives in chaos, but do you want to risk losing important paperwork or missing a deadline?
• Stacks of Unfiled Papers or Unopened Mail: A backlog of filing or unopened mail may indicate that the lawyer lacks proper support staff or is disorganized, unmotivated or overwhelmed.
Observing Their Staff
A look at the lawyer’s staff members and how they interact with personnel can provide clues to their effectiveness, competence, reliability, and ethics.
• Unhappy Staff Members: Disgruntled employees or low workplace morale can signal poor lawyer-staff communication, strained relationships and a lack of caring. A lawyer who treats staff poorly—through bullying, verbal abuse, rudeness, and other behaviour—can fuel conflict, tension, and ill-will. If the lawyer fails to treat his employees well, will he treat clients well?
• High Turnover Rate: High employee attrition can signal dissatisfaction with the law firm in general or the lawyer specifically. Committed and satisfied employees are more likely to remain with a firm, regardless of pay or benefits.
• Lack of Staff: A lawyer who lacks adequate support staff may be difficult to work with or may be experiencing financial difficulties.
Reviewing Their Billing Practices
A lawyer’s billing practices can also raise red flags. Below are a few billing practices to watch.
• Overbilling or Excessive Billing: Overbilling is a sign that a lawyer or paralegal is inflating the time it took to perform a task (known as “padding time”).
• Vague Billing: Your legal bill should explain in detail the tasks performed, who is performing them and when. For example, a phone call should include information as to who made the call, what party they were calling, the nature of the matter and the duration of the call.
• Surcharge on Legal Expenses: Some law firms add a surcharge to routine expenses such as copying or postage fees as a way to boost profit levels. In most cases, such charges are inappropriate and unethical.
• Hidden Expenses: Watch for hidden expenses that were not disclosed at the outset or in the fee agreement or retention agreement.
Salt Lake City Attorney Free Consultation
If you are here, you probably have a legal issue you need help with, call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506