How to Hire the Right Attorney
Many clients in need of legal expertise do not know how to hire the right attorney. To best protect your rights, hire someone who understands them and who will provide you with the attention, care, and respect you so deserve. There are more than 160,000 practicing lawyers in over 100 areas of law in the State of California. That makes asking the right questions to find the right lawyer supremely helpful. Here are 5 of the most important questions you may ask in helping yourself find the right attorney.
A Quick Horror Story
In 2015, the ACLU filed a public lawsuit against the State of California and Fresno County’s public defense system. At the time, each Public defender shouldered up to four times the recommended number of clients. A public defender had so little time for clients, that they regularly failed to discuss the circumstances surrounding the person’s arrest, or whether evidence existed that could be used in their defense. Immigrants were encouraged to plead guilty without being told how that can affect their immigration status, even though the Supreme Court held that this violates the Constitution.
This is evidence that just because your public defender passed the bar, he or she may not have the experience or ethics to know how to serve you best.
(1) What do you think of my case?
For a lawyer to more sharply provide an opinion on your case, its most important to both be prepared and ask the right questions.
Before meeting with a prospective lawyer, write down key points in your case to share with the lawyer. Bring the contact information of everyone involved in the case. You should also bring all papers related to the case, because the lawyer may want to review them before and during your meeting.
Ask about cases similar to yours and how they were handled. For example, if you are facing criminal charges or a lawsuit, a criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights, and the strengths and weaknesses of your case. A criminal defense attorney knows the rules and procedures for arguing the case in court. An experienced and savvy lawyer can make a big difference in whether or not your side of the story is successfully presented to a judge or jury, or perhaps get the case dismissed.
Be wary of any lawyer who guarantees results. Most lawsuits and legal tasks are not “sure things.” However, a sharp lawyer should be able to point out the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Inquire into how long the lawyer expects your case to take and what steps will be involved. You should also always ask if the lawyer will handle your case personally, or if the lawyer intends to have another member of the law firm handle any part of your case. If so, you may want to talk to the second lawyer as well. If there is anything at all that you don’t understand, ask for a simpler explanation.
You are always safe to call Pride Legal, a network of independent lawyers that have been carefully screened to meet a high standard of competence. Standards including at least 5 years of experience, actual trial experience, a clean record with the State Bar, and the carrying malpractice insurance. On top of that, Pride Legal provides ongoing surveys to our callers, in order to evaluate performance. Call now, and one of our independent attorneys will be happy to provide you with a free and confidential consultation by telephone.
(2) What is your attorney’s legal background?
Everyone has a unique situation or problem that demands the right attorney. That is why it’s good to remember before you begin your search, that there are different types of lawyers.
Lawyers can specialize in bankruptcy, divorce, estate planning, etc. This is why it is so important to choose an attorney who specializes in your desired area of law.
We suggest asking for specific information, including each of the following:
Areas of specialization and certifications
The California State Bar certifies attorneys as specialists who have gone beyond the standard licensing requirements. A lawyer earns the designation of certified specialist in their particular area of law, increasing public protection and encouraging attorney competence.
Years of experience in each area of law they have practiced
There is no substitute for having real-world experience at every stage of representing clients in legal matters. Generally, new lawyers are woefully unprepared to meaningfully represent clients. However, a lawyer who has practiced 20 years may have less experience with your type of problem than a lawyer who is one year out of law school. A lawyer’s age has little to do with their ability to adequately assist you.
Actual trial experience before judges and juries
The most effective lawyers have many years of experience in representing clients in pre-litigation matters, a wide variety of creative settlements, both jury and bench trials, and both state and federal appeals. Be advised: Many of the top ranking lawyers that show up on google, have never tried a case before a judge or jury. Therefore, make sure to ask about trial experience.
Verdicts and settlements
In addition asking about trial experience, inquire about personal results achieved at trial and settlement negotiations, not from cases they have referred to lawyers who have actual experience.
With that, you should be able to gauge how much experience the lawyer has in cases like yours, and more importantly, what the outcomes of those cases were.
At Pride Legal, let us help you make that connection. One of our independent attorneys will be happy to provide you with a free and confidential consultation by telephone.
(3) How closely may I be involved in my lawyer’s work?
This question can be asked in two different ways:
- how closely you may involved?
- And how closely you will be involved?
This will depend on your particular arrangement. You may be able to help by gathering papers and other evidence and by lining up witnesses. In any case, you should tell the lawyer everything you can about your problem and report any new developments immediately. To do a good job, the lawyer should know everything you know — including information that that may seem unimportant to you or could be damaging to your case.
Ask the lawyer to explain the various steps involved in handling your problem. You may request copies of all letters and documents prepared for your case. And you should discuss exactly how often you would like the lawyer to update you. Depending on your situation, the lawyer may be able to provide a timetable that lays out the steps in the case.
However, this may not always be possible. If you are involved in a lawsuit, for example, the court’s schedule and backlog will influence how long your case will take. You should always feel comfortable to call your lawyer as your case moves along.
If you are not happy with the work a lawyer has performed on your behalf, you may fire him, her, or they at any time. In some types of cases, you may need the permission of a judge to do this. Weigh the costs and benefits of starting over with a new lawyer. Your case may be delayed and could cost you more.
(4) What type of fee agreements are available?
Most agreements must be put in writing. By law, fee agreements must be in writing when the lawyer expects the fees and costs to total $1,000 or more. But even if the lawyer fails to draw up a written fee agreement, you may still have to pay the lawyer a reasonable fee for any work done. In any case, it is always a good idea to have a written record of the agreement. If there is a written agreement, keep a copy for your records; if you have an oral agreement, make a written note of it.
The fee agreement must include the lawyer’s hourly rate and other standard rates, fees and costs (which are other expenses of your case) that would apply to your case. It also must explain the general nature of the services that the lawyer will provide for you. The agreement should also explain how the fees will be handled and billed. If the lawyer is going to add interest or other charges to unpaid amounts, the agreement should make this clear as well.
A fee agreement may also include your obligations as a client — to be truthful, for example, and to cooperate and pay your bills on time.
When discussing fees, you and your lawyer should agree on what you will pay the lawyer and what services will be provided. This way, both of you will know what to expect from each other.
The lawyer may have a pre-printed fee agreement. If you don’t like any part of the agreement, ask the lawyer to make revisions or to draw up a new agreement better suited to your case.
The most typical fee type is a retainer fee. This kind of fee can mean different things to different people. Make sure you understand your particular fee agreement. A lawyer may charge you a flat fee for a particular service or offer alternative methods of payment. Each has benefits and risks.
A retainer fee can be used to guarantee that the lawyer will be available to take a particular case. A retainer fee sometimes is considered a “down payment” on any legal services that the client will need. This means that the legal fees will be subtracted from the retainer until the retainer is used up. With this kind of retainer fee agreement, the lawyer would bill for any additional time spent on your case or ask you to replace the retainer.
A retainer fee also can mean that the lawyer is “on call” to handle the client’s legal problems over a period of time. Certain kinds of legal work might be covered by the retainer fee while other legal services would be billed separately to the client.
If the fee agreement is a true non-refundable retainer agreement, you may not be able to get your money back — even if the lawyer does not handle your case or complete the work.
Statutory Fee Agreement
Another type of fee agreement is a statutory fee agreement. That is used for certain other legal problems, the court either sets or must approve the fee you will pay. For example, the cost of some probate and other legal work is set by statute or law.
There are some lawyers who charge by the hour. While the amount certainly varies from lawyer to lawyer, you may ask the lawyer to estimate the amount of time your case will take. That is why it is also important to ask the lawyer if there will be someone else working on the case. Will an associate lawyer, legal assistant, or paralegal be working on the case? If so, how will their work be billed?
It may also be a smart idea to ask about a fixed-fee agreement. This type of fee agreement, sometimes called a standard fee, is commonly used in routine legal matters. For example, a lawyer may charge a fixed amount to draw up a simple will or handle an uncontested divorce. That being said, find out what the agreement does and does not include and if any other charges may be added to the bill before you sign.
If the fee arrangement is for a contingency fee — which means the attorney will get a percentage of the settlement if you win the case — the agreement must be in writing. Contingency fee agreements must state, among other things, the agreed-upon percentage, and whether you will be required to pay the lawyer for matters not specifically covered in the written fee agreement that might come up as a result of your case. In most cases, the agreement also must note that the attorney’s fee is negotiable between the attorney and the client — not set by any legal statute or law.
For your convenience, we provide a link here to another Pride Legal video informing on how you could negotiate a contingency fee agreement with a lawyer.
No matter what fee agreement you are presented, make sure you understand the agreement before you sign it. If you are not comfortable with any of the terms, don’t sign it. If you can’t work out your disagreement, you may want to find a new lawyer.
(4) What can be done to reduce fees and costs?
You may want to ask your lawyer if a junior lawyer or paralegal can perform some of the work to lower your costs. You may also ask if there are tasks you could perform yourself to save time and money. For example, you might be able to copy, pick up or deliver certain documents, like a victim’s police report, which are faster for you to obtain than the law office.
And it’s always nice to have a lawyer that isn’t going to bill you when you need to make a short phone call. I believe it is a privilege to represent people going through difficult times, and the very least each client deserves is not having to sweat about calling their lawyer to briefly talk or get an update.
(5) What is your real deal?
You may decide to hire the lawyer after your first meeting, or you may want some time to think about it. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Will you be comfortable working closely with the lawyer?
- Do you think the lawyer has the experience and skill to handle your case?
- Do you understand the lawyer’s explanation of what your case involves?
- Does the fee seem reasonable?
If your answer to one or more of these questions is “no,” you probably should talk to another lawyer. If all of your answers are “yes,” you may have found the right lawyer for you.
It is also important to ask about the lawyer’s current caseload. Ask the lawyer, with all the other matters they are involved with, how much personal attention will your case receive.
In addition, you can check the State Bar’s website to find out if the lawyer has ever been publicly disciplined by the bar. Simply go to Attorney Search and Attorney/Member Search, then type in the attorney’s name or bar number.
At Pride Legal, we give you more than just a lawyer’s name and phone number. We provide you with comprehensive and valuable background information on each lawyer, ensuring our ability to find the right lawyer for your case.
Contact Pride Legal
If you or a loved one is in search of an experienced attorney, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further questions. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.