Things to consider when choosing a lawyer

Finding the right lawyer can be a difficult and stressful endeavor. Just as you've become preoccupied with serious legal or medical problems you are required to make a good, informed decision about who you want representing you. Your goal should be to find a lawyer with whom you are comfortable on both a personal and a professional level. Since your case may involve very personal and private information about you, your family, your finances, etc., it is vital that you find somebody you can trust.

One of the easiest ways to begin you search is to get recommendations from people whose opinions you respect. This could be an employer, a lawyer at your workplace, a teacher, minister, doctor, relative, neighbor, or friend. Remember, however, that this is just a start. Not every lawyer works well for everyone, and all cases are unique. Just because a lawyer is good in one area does not mean that he/she is a good lawyer across the board. Make sure the people giving you advice have actually used the lawyer for a similar case. Since lawyers, like doctors, specialize, you need to make sure your lawyer is an expert in your field; you wouldn't want an optometrist performing your brain surgery.

The nature of your legal problem will help define the type of lawyer you want to hire. It is your responsibility, however, to communicate your case to your potential lawyers. Since he/she will not know your life or your business, you must take an active role explaining the issues to your lawyer and, once you've decided on one, in the overall case. In general, you should be prepared to answer some basic questions about the case; you should have the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of everyone connected with your case readily available; you should bring all documents including pay stubs, health insurance information, witness information, or whatever documentation is involved in your case, to any interview with your prospective lawyer.

Bringing all available documentation and making notes about your problem before meeting with your prospective lawyer for the first time can be very important. It will allow you to present your problem in the clearest and most organized manner possible, and then to evaluate your lawyer's response to your case and questions. Once your lawyer knows what your case is about, you should consider whether you'll be comfortable working closely with the firm, whether you believe the lawyer has the experience and skill to handle your case, whether you understand his/her explanation of what the case involves, and whether the fee arrangements seem reasonable.

You should be confident that your lawyer can accomplish for you what the laws allow, and one of the best ways to judge this is simply by the sense you get when you first meet with him/her to discuss your case. Characteristics like competency and propriety are often obvious enough that you'll know them when you see them. However, you can also check the record of any lawyer that you are thinking about hiring. An experienced lawyer's record should speak for itself. Nearly every law library in a large city has a verdict reporting service that can give you any lawyer's record (as long as they deal with court cases). In smaller towns you may be able to just ask the local judge about the professionalism of a particular lawyer. Most lawyers also work with partners in their firm, paralegals, aids, etc., so find out who else might be involved in the case and check their qualifications as well.

Just remember that your lawyer is working for you, so don't be afraid to ask questions, point out inconsistencies, or expect them to give you their time and attention. The bottom line, when it comes to finding a lawyer, is to shop around and make sure that any concerns you have are appropriately addressed. Don't expect Perry Mason, but do look for a lawyer who will work closely with you and allow you to take an active role in the proceedings.