Money & Career
Your Guide to Choosing a Lawyer
7/4/2018 10:21:26 PM
Choosing a lawyer

Much like physicians or engineers, attorneys tend to be highly specialized. Just as you wouldn’t go to a cardiologist to have gallbladder surgery or want a chemical engineer to build the next I-10 bridge, you wouldn’t require the services of a criminal court lawyer to write up your will. It’s important to find a lawyer who is right for you, and that often depends on several factors. Follow these steps for your best legal outcome.

Determine what type of lawyer you need. 
The Heiros Gamos Law Center cites over 70 core areas of law which are then broken down into 260 sub areas of practice. You want to find a lawyer that specializes in your specific law need and has a proven track record. You will also want to consider a local attorney, as he/she will be familiar with the courts and specific laws your area. "Always, always, always hire a local attorney,” says Mark Judson, a practicing attorney for over 25 years and the Executive Director of the SWLA Law Center. "All courts have local rules, customs, and procedures that vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Judges are the same way. Every judge is different. A local attorney who is familiar with the local rules of court, and who is also familiar with the tendencies of a local judge, has a distinct advantage over an out-of-towner.”


Contact your local bar association for a list of qualified attorneys. 
State bar associations keep public records about complaints and disciplinary actions taken against attorneys licensed to practice in the state. Most local bar associations also have free referral services that can help you find an attorney to suit your case’s needs. The Southwest Louisiana Bar Association includes the five-parish region. http://swlba.org.

Find online listings of attorneys and read the reviews. 
Many websites offer free reviews of businesses. Find lawyer reviews at Martindale.com, LegalZoom, Rocketlawyer, LawTrades, and Avvo.com. Cross reference reviews from more than one website to counter biased reviews.

Obtain referrals and recommendations from friends, family, even other attorneys. 
Ask who they hired and for what type of service. Were they satisfied with the services and would they recommend the attorney?

Consider the size of the law firm. 
Law firms vary in size ranging from single-attorney offices to firms with dozens of lawyers. Choose a firm you think will be best suited to your situation. Large businesses may want to hire a large law firm with a notable reputation to handle complicated legal matters. But if you are simply looking for someone to manage your divorce or to help you write a will, a smaller firm with more personalized attention could be your best option. 

"Depending on the case you are seeking assistance for, depends upon which fit is best for your situation,” says James Sudduth,  Sudduth and Associates. For example, if you are a million-dollar local business, your company’s needs carry a substantial amount of responsibility. Such responsibility may be too overwhelming for a single-attorney operation; therefore, it is best to consider a mid-size to larger firm, staffed with a support team that will be there to ensure that your businesses needs are met to your satisfaction. Furthermore, clients might choose a bigger law firm because they offer a "buffet style” of practice areas. They are essentially your one-stop-shop, or your general practitioners. When clients go to a smaller firm or mid-size firm, like our firm at Sudduth and Associates, as opposed to a larger firm, they expect personalized treatment, and often have more of an input in their cases due to the fact that smaller firms tend to specialize in practice areas.”

Review each attorney’s website after you’ve made a list of possible lawyers who could meet your needs. 
Verify that each lawyer specializes in the type of law expertise you need. Look for other information about the attorney. Did he/she attend a reputable law school? What is his/her work history? Has he/she won awards or been granted other distinctions or merits? Also consider researching potential lawyers on social media. How an attorney represents him- or herself to the public may give you an idea if you and the lawyer would work well together.

Make appointments with attorneys on your short list. 
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a manageable few, it’s time to meet them in person. Most attorneys do consultation appointments for free, though some charge a small consultation fee. Determine this fee upfront; attorneys should be transparent about these details.

Make a list of questions to ask potential attorneys. 
An initial consultation with an attorney is an important meeting for both the attorney and the client. "It gives both sides the opportunity to get to know each other, as well as obtain more information about the case,” says Tina Wilson, attorney with Cox, Cox, Filo, Camel, and Wilson. Many times, the initial consultation is the first time the client has ever met with an attorney, so he or she may have many questions regarding the process, such as:
  • What can I expect?
  • What is the experience of the attorney or firm in handling similar cases?
  • How much is the attorney’s fee?
  • In personal injury cases, clients may want to know things such as:
  • How will my medical expenses be paid?
  • How can I obtain necessary medical treatment?
  • What happens if I am unable to return to work right away?
"The best thing an injured victim can do is look for a local experienced attorney who specializes in the area of litigation represented in the case,” Wilson says. "Overall experience and resources can make a major difference when it comes to your case. Remember that attorneys are accustomed to receiving questions of all types, so do not hesitate to ask whatever is on your mind. The attorney will also have a few questions for you to get a feel of your case. While most questions can be answered at the initial consultation, more questions may arise as the case progresses. Most attorneys are available by phone, email, or other means to consult clients throughout the case.”

Be a part of the legal team. 
Once your lawyer has started work on your case, Zita Andrus, attorney with Baggett McCall, encourages clients to cooperate with the lawyer and be an integral part of the legal team for the best possible outcome. Andrus offers the following tips to be an active participant in your case.
  • Keep a journal. If you are part of a personal injury lawsuit, you will be asked to explain your injury and how it has affected your life. This is often difficult to remember months later. Making a journal of the pain and issues you are having will be helpful to you and your attorney as the case progresses.
  • Follow the doctor’s orders. Following your doctor’s advice is paramount to a successful case and hopefully resolving your injuries.
  • Communicate with your lawyer. It is imperative that your lawyer knows about any changes in your life; whether you have moved, changed jobs, changed telephone numbers, or been referred to another doctor for treatment. Constant communication with your lawyer is key.
  • Keep your case confidential. Be mindful of what you tell others about your case, whether in person or on social media.
  • Honesty is the best policy. Being honest with your lawyers and medical providers throughout the case is crucial to a successful resolution.
When you need legal services, choose a lawyer whom you feel will be your best advocate and makes you feel the most comfortable. "After sifting through the seemingly never-ending lists of local attorneys and firms, choose the attorney or firm that works within your wheelhouse of need,” says James Sudduth. "Ultimately, it all boils down to one thing: trust. Do you trust this attorney, or this firm, to successfully navigate you – the client – through the inevitable rough waters ahead?”

Once you’ve made a final decision, your attorney may provide you with an engagement letter. 
This is a contract between you and your attorney that defines the nature of the legal engagement you are involved in, and the conditions and terms of your agreement with your attorney. Read the engagement agreement closely and take time to understand it since it will guide your relationship with the attorney.

So, what is typically included in this engagement agreement? Susan Gay Viccellio, partner at Stockwell Sievert Law Firm, breaks down the information you can expect to find in this important document.

The agreement will tell you what issues the attorney is resolving or not resolving for you and names the adverse party. "For example, if you hire a lawyer to help you with clearing the title of your house, that does not mean the lawyer is your attorney when someone hits your car as you drive home,” says Viccellio. "You and your attorney must decide if the attorney will help you resolve your car wreck in addition to clearing the title of your home.” 

The agreement will state how much the attorney charges for her services and how she will bill you for those services (e.g., an hourly rate, flat fee, contingency fee). "Many, if not most, attorneys will require you to pay a sum of money up front called a retainer. This is not the attorney’s money though until she earns it by providing you her services.”

The procedure for billing will be set out in the agreement. If the entire retainer is not used in resolving your legal questions, then the remainder will be returned to you. Also, if your legal issues require more work than can be covered by the initial retainer, the agreement will tell you how you will be billed for those services.

Many engagement agreements will also discuss miscellaneous items, such as how often you should expect to hear from your attorney or her office, how quickly to expect responses to phone calls or emails, and even mileage rates if your attorney must travel on your behalf. "Defining this information benefits you, as the client, so that you are aware of the scope of work needed to be done and the costs associated with it,” says Viccellio. "The agreement sets forth the duties of the law firm, the lawyer, and the client as they work together to resolve your legal needs.”

Gather documents and pertinent information to take to the meeting. 
A lawyer may ask you to bring certain documents, but you should also bring any that you think are important to your case. "I always ask that my potential clients bring as much documentation as possible to the initial consultation,” says Jamie Gary, an attorney with Dwight & Gary, LLC and Safeguard Title, LLC. "It is an opportunity for me to sort out the facts and provide the most competent and cost-effective advice up front before I am retained.” Gary says the documents required depend on the type of case. 

"A litigated case, particularly a personal injury case, can be won or lost at the initial consultation if the client fails to bring a pertinent document or a piece of information that helps me evaluate the case. If the potential client had previously been injured or treated for similar complaints in the past, I need to know about those injuries and complaints. While most potential clients may not retain previous medical records that reflect prior treatment, informing me of the prior injuries and prior treating health care providers will allow me to obtain more information concerning prior injuries and treatment.”

If a potential client seeks to open a succession to handle the assets and debts of an estate, Gary says the most pertinent documents are the last will and testament, certified copy of death certificate, bank statements covering the date of death, credit card statements covering the date of death, vehicle titles, and tax assessments in the name of the deceased.

If it is a non-litigated matter, such as a real estate closing, there is never too much information that the client, lender, or realtor can provide a lawyer, Gary adds. "Real estate closings are time sensitive. The more information I can give to my closing secretary up front, the more efficient the closing process. We have the resources to obtain legal descriptions, tax assessments, and title documents. However, it is pertinent for the involved parties to initially provide my office with a copy of a buy or sell agreement or any other document reflecting the terms of the sale. Additionally, I need full legal names, marital history, and an address of the property to be sold.”
Attend your consultations.

Take notes during these meetings to help you remember later what each lawyer said and what your initial impressions were. If you are having a difficult time understanding your lawyer, request that he/she speak in a manner you can understand.
Posted by: Angie Kay Dilmore | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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