Unfortunately, many at some point in their lives will need to hire an attorney for some issue. Whether you are buying a house, preparing your will, suing a contractor that did you wrong, or, you or someone you love has been involved in a car accident, suffered medical malpractice, or are disabled and need help with a long term disability claim or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim. Just like in any profession, competency varies in the legal profession. But how do you go about finding a competent lawyer to handle your case?
Here are six steps to help you find the right attorney for your needs.
1. Ask a lawyer
If you already have an attorney but need one with specialized expertise, ask for a referral. All of our current clients and friends (hopefully all of our past clients consider themselves our friends) know they can contact us at any time for advice and a referral when the legal need is outside of our general areas of practice. We handle claims in the following areas:
2. Get a verdict from someone you know and trust
Has a friend purchased a house recently? Has a sibling gone through a divorce? Who prepared your parents' will? Ask your family members, friends, co-workers, and others you trust for recommendations. But don't just collect names. Ask probing questions about what it's like dealing with the attorney they suggest. For example, was he or she on time for appointments and reasonably available to answer questions? One of the common complaints I hear from those I speak to is that their attorney does not get back to them or does not get back to them promptly.
3. Consult a bar association
Click on your state on the map at the American Bar Association website, for state-specific information, including a lawyer finder service, license verification, access to free legal resources, and a guide to court systems. Clicking on the "Learn More/FAQs" button takes you to a page with advice that includes tips for hiring, using, and paying a lawyer. If you are in the Knoxville area, go to the Knoxville Bar Association's lawyer referral service.
4. Check legal specialty groups
Some specialists have their own professional associations, which can help you find attorneys; in some cases, they also offer information and tips.
American College of Real Estate Lawyers
Click on "Member Roster" on the home page to find a real-estate lawyer.
American College of Trust and Estate Counsel
Click on "Fellows" to locate a specialist.
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
Find a lawyer who focuses on Medicare rights, estates and trusts, and other issues.
National Association of Consumer Advocates
Find a lawyer specializing in consumer matters such as predatory lending and forced arbitration.
National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys
Here you can find an attorney who specializes in protecting the rights of debtors.
National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives
Here you find a representative to help you with your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or SSI claim. However, be careful to pick an attorney. Please read about the dangers of non-attorney representatives in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and SSI Claims.
5. Do a cross examination
Once you've found a potential candidate, set up a face-to-face meeting. Many lawyers don't charge a fee for this first visit; be sure to ask. The attorney will probably ask you a lot of questions, but you should be looking for some answers of your own, either by asking directly or just listening and observing. For example, does the attorney seem organized? How well does he or she listen to what you have to say? This is where you need to trust your instincts.
"Nothing replaces that visit to the office," Zack says. "The moment the hair on your neck stands up, you ought to be moving on to another lawyer."
You'll also want to know how your case will be handled and how you'll be charged. (For a list of questions to ask, see the box on the facing page.) Ask for references, but be aware that you're not likely to be put in touch with former clients who are dissatisfied. Don't hesitate to interview other attorneys as well.
Once your questions are answered and you're ready to hire someone, insist on a written agreement. Read it thoroughly to verify your understanding of the terms and to make sure there are no surprises. If you're not certain about something, have it clarified in writing.