How to Hire a Lawyer
Despite what certain low forms of legal humor might lead you to believe, Lawyers are people. As a result there are good lawyers and even some bad lawyers. Most lawyers are good at parts of their profession and “need improvement” in other areas. You must have a large amount of trust in your lawyer for him to give you the best representation possible. Therefore, you should choose a lawyer carefully.
First, how do you get the name of a lawyer to consider? The best way is usually a referral. Don’t be afraid to call a lawyer who is a friend or who you had retained on another legal matter outside what you think is their specialty. They will usually have one or two of their colleagues that they can refer. These are usually pretty honest referrals since kickbacks or referral fees are prohibited under the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct. Today, people are turning more and more to the Internet to choose all kinds of services. While a Google search may turn up a large number of attorneys who may or may not be local or specialize in what you need, there are new lawyer search websites that are now being used. These include Avvo, Justia, and Martindale-Hubbell. Avvo is particularly interesting as it not only allows an attorney to enter all his relevant information, but provides an opportunity to be rated by both clients and peers. It also runs a search with the state bar to determine if there are any disciplinary problems. Keep in mind, that this only covers State Bar disciplinary hearings. Lawyers have been criminally convicted of crimes but that only was shown by Avvo when the State Bar got involved after the trial. Radio, TV, and particularly the yellow pages are traditional mass marketing avenues of advertising. Keep in mind that the biggest ad just means the biggest yellow pages budget, not necessarily that the attorney will be a good fit for you.
One thing you should quickly find out when contacting a potential attorney is if they offer a free consultation. Many attorneys do this, and it is a great opportunity to present your problem to an attorney, get an initial opinion, and determine if the attorney is the one you want to represent you.
Your initial consultation with a lawyer is when the lawyer first hears the details of your case and can form opinions based on his knowledge and experience. What the lawyer wants to know is 1) does this person have a problem that I have knowledge or experience to handle? 2) Does she have a claim under the law? 3) How easy or hard will it be to prove her claim? 4) What, if anything, will she gain from fighting her claims in court? 5) Can she get enough money, or other benefits, from the court to make it worth hiring me? 6) does the person or entity on the other side have the ability to provide her the compensation or benefit if she should win? Keep in mind these this is the type of information that the lawyer is seeking and help him answer those questions. This is your first opportunity to work with this lawyer and a good chance to see if your personalities will mesh. Remember, you may be in a long relationship with this professional depending on your problem.
The initial consultation is also a chance for you to ask questions to your potential lawyer. Not only should you ask questions on your case, but on how you will work with this lawyer. Ask how the lawyer is getting paid. Lawyers can charge flat fees, work on an hourly rate, or take a percentage of a monetary recovery. Be sure you understand not only the “fees,” or what an attorney charges for legal work, but also “costs” which would include things like filing fees, copy charges, mileage, expert witness fees and other expenses. Attorneys can advance some or all of those litigation costs and they may or may not be contingent on the outcome of the case. Sometimes, the attorney you meet is a partner or senior partner who then assigns some or your entire file to an associate attorney. There is nothing wrong with that, and it may save you some money if your contract is by the hour, as associates usually bill less per hour than partners. You should however, ask the interviewing attorney who will be working the case and meet that person as well.
–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.