Are you looking to hire an attorney? Choosing a lawyer can be a frustrating challenge if you don’t have much experience dealing with lawyers. Based on questions I receive from friends, here are some general guidelines, focusing on Washington State practice:
- Find an attorney with the subject-matter knowledge you need. Attorneys generally cannot advertise they are experts in a field, with limited exceptions such as patent lawyers; however attorney may publish their areas of focus. If you are looking for a divorce lawyer, for example, look for someone who practices “family law.” If you need a will or trust, then consider searching for an attorney with “trust and estate” experience. The more specific you are in your search, the more likely you will narrow down your results to attorneys who have the experience to help you. If you need help drafting or reviewing a contract, business attorneys may be a good starting place.
- Geography. You might narrow your search to your town if there are in a city with lots of lawyers. However, it may be worthwhile to drive a little farther to find the best fit for you.
- Research. Find out more about the potential lawyer. Read his or her website, linked-in profile, recommendations from other clients. See if the attorney discusses issues similar to your own. Sometimes, attorneys mention specific clients; more often, they do not because of confidentiality restrictions. You can also find out if the attorney has malpractice insurance and if he or she has been subject to discipline by the bar by reviewing the attorney’s profile on the bar website: https://www.mywsba.org/LawyerDirectory
- Interview the Attorney. Each attorney has his/her own personality and style. When you meet with an attorney, ask questions. Ask about price, communication and billing practices. You are placing your life in this person’s hands. You want to feel confident, safe, and reassured by your choice. While an attorney cannot guarantee results, he or she can guide you through the process and advise you on critical decisions. An attorney should be able to lift some of the emotional burdens from your shoulders. Hire someone who knows what he or she is doing and is a fit with you.
- Review your Agreement. Do not sign an agreement without reviewing it first. Ask questions if you don’t understand a term. Often, you can negotiate with the attorney.
- Remember, attorneys have ethical and legal obligations to maintain your confidences and secrets. Be straight with your attorney. The attorney can only work with the facts known to him or her. Hiding things from your lawyer only hurts you in the end.
- Advertising. Finally, a word about advertising. Lawyers are like other businesses, and may buy ads on google or other sites to raise their visibility on search engines. The attorney with the biggest ad or the most prominent listing may be the best, but may not be qualified at all. Buyer beware!