Be Picky About Picking a Lawyer
By R. Kurtz “Kurt” Holloway, Esq.
The three basic things you should know about a lawyer are his or her knowledge of the law, ability to communicate and fees for services. Begin your search with recommendations and reading published legal articles .
Legal Knowledge . An attorney’s knowledge of an area of law is important. Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, there is little uniformity for official certification of an attorney’s knowledge in a particular field. More readily available methods of gauging an attorney’s knowledge are discussed below under Ways to Find the Right Lawyer.
Communication Skills. Just as with any other professionals, some attorneys have better client communication skills than others. It is your right to understand the reasoning and action an attorney recommends for you. Can the attorney demonstrate that she understands your circumstances and offer specific advice? Legal solutions are not one-size-fits-all. There are virtually always options for dealing with an issue. Why does she recommend one option over the others? What are the costs associated with each? Since one of my areas of concentration is in estate planning and administration I have talked to a number of people who were confused with documents their previous lawyer had prepared because they did not understand them. Living trusts are often a topic of discussion. Many clients who had living trusts prepared by another attorney had no idea why. In some cases, after we talked about it, and the client better understood what a living trust does and does not provide, the client decided to keep it but in other cases the client asked me to terminate the trust. The fact that a client is asking me for a second opinion is a strong indicator of the poor communications between the client and her previous lawyer.
Fees. In Pennsylvania, lawyers are required by our Code of Professional Responsibility to disclose fees in writing to new clients. It is your right to insist on a written fee disclosure before you authorize work to be done. Make sure you understand it. If you don’t, ask to have it explained and changed if necessary. If options were discussed fees for each option should be disclosed. If any lawyer hesitates to provide a written disclosure, find another lawyer.
Ways to Find the Right Lawyer. Recommendations are perhaps the best way and research is the second to find the right lawyer for you. Recommendations can be grouped into three categories: personal, professional and published.
Personal recommendations are those you get from family, friends and others you trust who have used the services of a lawyer for the same type of legal matter. Ask about the attorney’s knowledge, attentiveness, communication style and billing practices.
A professional recommendation from a lawyer you know to another lawyer in a different area of practice is another good method. Many attorneys are happy to provide this service free of charge to friends and clients. Here again, the more questions you ask about the attorney, the more valuable the referral will be to you.
Published reviews on the internet of attorneys are becoming more commonplace. Since you cannot speak to the person who wrote the review, these have some value but perhaps less than the other recommendation sources.
Internet research of published legal articles is useful to find the right attorney. Lawyers who have extensively written articles about legal issues and posted to the internet can be found using common search methods. Published information does not guarantee the attorney’s level of knowledge but you can gain insight into his skills by looking at how extensively he has written on the subject and how clearly he communicates to readers.
Finally, use your initial telephone or office conference with the attorney to ask questions that will help you decide if he or she is right for you. Be picky. It is worth your effort.