10 Things to Consider When Looking for An Attorney
1. Check the state bar website for any past disciplinary actions.
You can search the California bar site by the attorney’s name, and the profile will provide whether the attorney has any disciplinary actions in his/her record from the state bar. Try a search at the California bar site.
2. Experience of the attorney.
The saying is generally true for attorneys just like anything else: you get what you pay for. A more experienced attorney will probably cost you more, but a less experienced attorney or a paralegal can be more of a risk when your situation is more complex, and you may end up having to hire another attorney to finish or correct a mistake.
3. Whether the attorney is compatible with your goals.
You don’t need to be friends with your attorney, and in fact it’s not a good idea, because it is a professional relationship. But an attorney who is “on par” with your views of your legal situation will likely understand your position better and thus be able to serve your interests better.
4. The primary practice area of the attorney.
If you are going through a messy divorce, you should look for an attorney who handles divorces routinely, and has plenty of experience in complex or highly emotional divorces. Such an attorney will be able to anticipate problems and be more equipped to handle those problems if they arise.
5. Where the attorney primarily practices.
An attorney who is constantly in court in a certain courthouse is familiar with the preferences of the judges (each judge is a different person and has certain likes/dislikes in handling legal cases). Also, most courthouses have their own forms for certain situations in addition to the state forms, and an attorney who handles cases in that courthouse will be readily familiar with the local forms and can get your papers processed more efficiently.
6. How involved the attorney keeps the client.
Some clients want an attorney they can retain and hear from as little as possible until their case is complete. Others prefer to know how everything is progressing in their case. Our office, for example, requests clients to review and approve almost every document that is sent out on a client’s behalf, and provides the client with a copy of each document that is sent out on their behalf.
7. The payment arrangements of the attorney.
Many attorneys require payment up front of a large sum of money; others allow payment plans, or some other arrangement. You need to make sure that whatever the arrangement is, it is within your ability to adhere to it. You don’t need to make an already stressful situation even more stressful by worrying about paying a sudden $10,000 attorney fee bill up front, or becoming behind in payments to your attorney as trial is approaching.
8. Ease of access to your attorney or his paralegal/secretary.
Many attorneys do not directly answer client phone calls because they are in court, in conferences, etc. Often a paralegal can answer your questions-without charging for their time as an attorney usually would-and they are more readily available because they don’t have to go in and out of the office nearly as often. Also consider the option of email-if you need an attorney’s response, do you have the option to email the attorney directly, so he can respond to you at his earliest convenience? With modern technology, this is becoming a more convenient option than telephones, because an attorney can quickly send 15 responses in 15-20 minutes, versus making 15 phone calls at 5-10 minutes each. The attorney has more time to work on your legal goals, and you get your results faster.
9. How often does the attorney send billing statements?
Can you request an updated statement in between billing periods? The more frequently you receive a billing statement from your attorney, the more informed you are about your total bill, what work is being done, and if there are any mistakes on your bill, such as a payment improperly recorded. Also, when an attorney is preparing for trial, it often takes a large amount of time, and the more aware you are of the increasing costs, the more able you are to make decisions about going forward, settling, putting the case on hold, etc.
10. Whether you feel comfortable with the attorney:
During the first consultation, consider how much you feel that you can trust this person. An attorney-client relationship requires trust-if you meet with an attorney and you just don’t feel comfortable with him/her, you should seek another attorney. This person is handling your legal problems, and you will need to provide personal information to him/her. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, the attorney cannot effectively represent you, and it may only result in further frustration.
Update March 13, 2013
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