Hiring an attorney can be an unnerving experience and is the last thing you want to be trying to do when you find yourself in need of one. The following list provides a few questions and guidelines to assist you when hiring an attorney. There are no hard and fast rules, just questions to ask to find out if he or she is the right attorney for you.
1. When you call to hire an attorney, do you get to speak to the attorney or do you get to speak to a staff person?
Attorneys are busy individuals but that is no excuse for not personally speaking with clients who wish to retain their services. Some attorneys answer their own phones. Some attorneys have legal assistants or receptionists to answer their phones for them. Some attorneys have ‘intake specialists’ or sales representatives, who are generally not attorneys, who do all the retaining for the firm. First, find out who you are speaking with and ask to speak with the attorney. If you can’t get an attorney on the phone before you hire them, you will likely have the same difficulty after you hire them. You may have to leave a message and wait for a call back but that is fine as long as you get a timely call back from the attorney.
2. Which Attorney will be handling your case?
Some firms have one attorney. Some firms have two attorneys. Some firms have hundreds of attorneys. When you hire an attorney, do you know which one will be handling your case? At the time you retain the law firm, you should be able to know who will be handling your case. You should get their name and direct phone number so you can remain in contact with that attorney during the pendency of your case. It is also a good sign if you get the attorney’s direct cell number. Having more than one attorney handling your case is not a bad thing depending on the circumstances. As long as the attorney or attorneys handling your case are in constant communication regarding your file and diligently update your file with any work done, there can be a significant upside to having a ‘team’ working on your matter. The team approach allows each area of your file to be worked by the attorney most capable in that area.
Prior to hiring a law firm, it is a good idea to meet any attorney working on your file. This allows you to get to know each attorney and see who will be dealing with you and your case. Another reason to meet each attorney working your file is to find out if you are being handed off to a first year associate or other young attorney while paying for the partner to handle your case. Also, if you meet six different attorneys that will be working on your case, ask yourself how this many people can provide continuity to your file. It will be much easier for one or two people to work your file and keep the required continuity to provide the best possible service.
3. Is the Attorney familiar with the Court where your case is venue?
California is a big state. Southern California is a very large geographic region with literally dozens of courthouses. Does your attorney practice in 50 courthouses? What about 25? Or even 10? You want to know how many counties and courthouses an attorney covers for a very good reason. If an attorney covers such a large area and number of courthouses, how can they establish a relationship with the Judges, District Attorneys, Court Clerks, Bailiffs, etc? Part of being an effective attorney is establishing a reputation and developing a rapport with your peers. That can only be achieved when you are around these people on a weekly or daily basis. It cannot be done when you are in a courthouse once or twice a month.
Bottom line, are you hiring a San Diego attorney for a Victorville case? Are you hiring an attorney in Los Angeles to handle a case out of San Bernardino? Are you hiring an Orange County attorney to handle a Rancho Cucamonga case? Local knowledge is an important factor in hiring an attorney. Your attorney should know which Judge will be handling your case. He or she should know what District Attorneys may be handling your case. They should be able to provide a little background on these individuals to give you an idea about what to expect with your case.
4. Is the Cost Reasonable and are there any surprise costs down the road?
Price is important but it is not the most important factor. If you call 10 DUI attorneys, you may get prices as low as $500 and as high at $15,000. When speaking with an attorney, feel free to ask what you are paying for. How can an attorney be in business and work your case for $500. What makes an attorney so much better and therefor worth $15,000? Does the price include trial or are trial fees extra? There are all important questions your attorney should be able to answer to your satisfaction before you retain their services. Do not think that paying more for an attorney means you will be paying to get a better outcome. Hard work and superior skills usually get a better outcome, not the price you pay.
Another important question is about additional costs that may arise during your case. Do you need to hire an expert? Do you need to pay for a blood split or do DNA testing? Are you going to subpoena witnesses to hearings that may cost additional money? Typically, the fee you pay the attorney only covers the attorney’s fees and does not cover any other additional costs. You should ask what costs may arise, who is going to pay for them, and get estimates of these costs before you hire an attorney.
5. Is there any pressure to retain on the spot?
Sometimes hiring an attorney is urgent. Sometimes it is not. You should never feel pressured to retain an attorney on the spot. You may put pressure on yourself to make a quick decision and that may be necessary in some cases but the attorney should never make you feel pressured to hire the attorney without being able to give you an very good reason why.
If you have police looking for you or if your statute of limitations is about to run, you are in fact, in a hurry and the pressure is on. If you just got cited for a Public Intoxication ticket and your court date is three months away, you have time.
Hiring an attorney at an early stage can definitely take some stress off your shoulders but in many cases, you have time. Take that time to interview as many attorneys as you need until you find the attorney you feel most capable to handle your case and at a price you can afford.
6. Do your research.
When looking for an attorney, the internet is your friend. You can find attorneys in any area of law and in any geographic region in a matter of seconds. You can also find very valuable information about each attorney by searching their name and seeing what comes up. Most attorneys who have been practicing for a while have been reviewed. Go to the attorney’s website and see what they are all about. Read online reviews of the attorneys you are interested in and see what prior clients have said about them and their services. All of these things are just guidelines. These criteria should help you choose a few attorneys to call and that is exactly what you should do next. Part of your ‘research’ is talking to the attorney. With the information you find online, you will be better equipped to interview each attorney and find the attorney that is right for you.
Here are a few websites you can visit to assist your research on any particular attorney:
Hiring an attorney is not an easy thing to do if you have never done it before or had a bad experience hiring one in the past. This article is meant to provide you a few guidelines and tools to make sure you are equipped to hire the best attorney at an price you can afford who will provide you with the service you need.