How to Select the Right Attorney
Selecting the right attorney to represent you could be one of the most important decisions you ever make. It’s a decision that many people make without all of the requisite knowledge, nor the guidance of a knowledgeable individual.
What does this mean for you? It means you should spend some time carefully thinking about what selection criteria you’ll need. This guide is meant to ease your burden by providing some insight into considerations you ought to have if you need to hire an attorney.
While there are many ways that you could break down this problem, I believe the most useful criteria for selecting an attorney requires a three-part analysis. I’ll explain below...
Step 1: Find a Competent Attorney
While it almost goes without saying, make sure that you are hiring a licensed attorney. There have been many people taken in by hiring people who, as it turned out, were not attorneys. Many state bars offer license lookup services so that potential clients can verify that their intended attorney is licensed. The Virginia State Bar’s license lookup service is located here: https://member.vsb.org/attsearch/search.aspx.
Next, verify that the attorney practices the particular type of law you need help with. While the importance of this requirement varies with the complexity of your legal issue(s), it is something you should always consider. For instance, while any attorney is capable of helping someone with almost no assets draft a simple will, not every attorney is sufficiently competent to help someone with ample wealth like Bill Gates with the creation of a complex estate plan.
Generally speaking, an attorney will have specialized knowledge and experience in the areas of law in which they practice. Attorneys will generally list their areas of practice on their websites.
Next, consider looking at an independent third-party rating organization to help you judge the attorney’s reputation. One such organization that I’d recommend checking out is AVVO. These third-party organizations usually have web pages where you can find more information about your prospective attorney. This information may contain client reviews as well as the endorsements of other attorneys.
My AVVO profile page is here: Profile for Attorney Benjamin Inman
My current AVVO ranking is (it updates automatically):
Additionally, there are endorsement organizations that select attorneys for you that are “the best” or “elite” or “super,” based on varying criteria. Sometimes their “criteria” is not clear, and their level of endorsement is directly correlated with whether the lawyer is willing to pay. Be careful with these organizations, since their selection criteria is usually not clearly spelled out. While I have been selected by a number of different organizations like this in the past, I think it is important to consider the credibility of the particular organization that is providing the endorsement, and weigh it along with all of the other selection criteria mentioned in this article. While you may find it helpful, it should not be your only criteria for hiring an attorney.
Step 2: Find an Attorney You Trust
Once you have narrowed down your list of potential attorneys to just a few, it is a good idea to speak with each one to see how their personality aligns with your own. I don’t believe that even the most skilled attorney would be the correct choice for everyone. Just like in selecting a spouse, personality matters.
Step 3: Find an Attorney You Can Afford
Finding the perfect attorney is useless if you can’t afford him or her. There are three main types of attorney fee arrangements. Understanding the difference between them will help you make a wise choice.
The first type is the flat-fee arrangement where an attorney charges the client a flat fee for a particular service, such as representation writing a simple will.
The second type is the hourly-fee arrangement where the attorney charges the client a set hourly rate and multiplies that by the number of hours he or she spends working on the client’s case. This can get expensive since there is no set limit on the cost of the representation. An attorney that charges a low hourly rate could actually wind up costing his/her client more money than another attorney hired for a larger hourly-fee.
The third type of fee arrangement is a contingent-fee arrangement where the client pays for results. While this may seem like the best option from a client’s perspective, it is not legally permitted in criminal cases and has a tendency to pay the attorney more than an hourly-fee arrangement to compensate for the attorney bearing the risk of failure.
Most clients prefer the certainty of flat-fee arrangements so they are not surprised with the final cost of their legal representation but it is not always an available option.
You need to consider not just the cost of the attorney’s fee, but also what value you could derive from the representation. This is sort of like a quality of life evaluation that only you can make. This could mean the sentimental value attached to an item and the strength of your desire to see that it goes to the right person. Or in a criminal case, it could involve keeping your current job, maintaining a security clearance, or even preserving your ability to travel without restrictions. For example, did you know that Canada denies entry to foreigners convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI)?
Choosing the right attorney is a major life decision and should be given the consideration it deserves. I hope that this article will be helpful to you in making your decision.
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