There is a great chance that, at some point in your life, you will need to hire a lawyer. A lawyer’s assistance can be beneficial in a variety of circumstances: if you are purchasing a home, getting married (or divorced), adopting a child, creating or buying a business or planning for your future. If you are charged with a crime, you’d be wise to consult a lawyer. If you are sued or need to pursue your own lawsuit, you’re probably going to want a lawyer … and a good one, at that.
Where to start? You’ve decided you need a lawyer. Now you need some names.
At its core, the practice of law remains a service-based business. It’s a highly technical service with heavy educational and licensing barriers to entry, sure, but lawyers are still providing a service. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start your search by asking neighbors, friends, and colleagues who have needed this service. Another excellent place to start your search is with any lawyers that you know. Even if the business lawyer you know from church does not handle criminal defense, she will likely have a recommendation to pass along. Other professionals may also have recommendations. An accountant will probably be able to recommend a tax lawyer, whereas a real estate agent will know several reliable closing lawyers.
Another source for recommendations is your local bar association. In Cherokee County, the Blue Ridge Bar Association will, upon request, provide you with a list of several lawyers who can help you with a particular legal issue. Their website is www.blueridgebar.org.
Remember, you need a lawyer to help you with your specific legal need. Just as you wouldn’t go to the dentist to get help with your back pain, you wouldn’t consult a divorce lawyer about an immigration issue. (Though, admittedly, there’s more overlap in the various legal specialties than there are in dentistry and spinal medicine.) So, when asking for recommendations, be sure to briefly describe your circumstances that require legal attention.
Do your research. In today’s information-age, it’s never been easier to do your homework. You’ve already asked your friends and colleagues for input and recommendations, but you’ll want to check online, too. In addition to the many, many websites that allow a lawyer’s past or current clients to rate his or her performance and leave reviews, be sure to check the State Bar of Georgia’s website (www.gabar.org) to determine whether a lawyer has had any formal complaints lodged or any disciplinary action taken against him. (See the “search by name” option on right side of webpage.)
Schedule a consultation. The next step is to schedule an appointment with the lawyer (or lawyers) on your well-researched list. Many lawyers will offer you a brief consultation appointment at low or no cost. At your appointment, you’ll give the lawyer an overview of your legal issue and he or she will explain what legal options are available to you.
Some questions to ask during your consultation:
1. Do you regularly handle my type of case?
2. What percentage of your business is handling cases like mine?
3. Will other lawyers or staff be working on my case?
4. How will we communicate about my case?
5. What is your regular response time to calls and/or email?
6. Can I speak to any of your past clients?
Trust your instincts. During and after your consultation, consider whether you and this lawyer could work together on your legal issue. Did she look you in the eye when addressing you? Did you feel like you were being heard? Did he or she seem to understand your objectives? Did he seem confident in his analysis of your legal issue? Were both positive and negative outcomes explained to you? If your issue involves a lawsuit, be wary of promises of specific outcomes as the court system is predictable only in its unpredictability.
Consider the costs. Ask about the lawyer’s hourly rate, how you will be billed, and whether there are additional expected costs (like court filing fees, copying costs, etc.). While legal advice can seem expensive, it’s often financially prudent to consult a lawyer sooner rather than later to avoid costly mistakes. Ask whether the lawyer can provide you with a range of expected expenses — depending on the type of case you have, he or she might be able to give you an estimation of the overall costs of the representation.
Get it in writing. Before paying a retainer, make sure you get a representation agreement or other written agreement detailing the representation and your expected costs — preferably signed by both you and your lawyer.