Choosing an Attorney
Things to Keep in Mind When Interviewing an Attorney
Remember this: you are interviewing the lawyer — not the other way around! Unless the attorney is taking the case pro bono (for free), they are not “doing you a favor” by taking your case.
Be active. Do not accept a lawyer’s self-serving description of what he or she has done for other clients in the past. If they promise or guarantee a result that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ask your potential attorney to put his or her promises in writing before you enter into a fee agreement with him or her. Be careful of exaggerated suggestions of what you might be able to obtain through a lawsuit.
A lawyer shouldn’t rush you into a lawsuit or pressure you like a car salesman. There are very few circumstances that warrant the rushing of a lawsuit. These situations do arise from time to time, such as the possible running of a statute of limitations or other time limitation deadlines.
There are many avenues that are quicker and more cost-efficient than filing a lawsuit. Litigation can be expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. An attorney should discuss all of your options, not just filing a lawsuit.
Don’t give a lawyer a check or credit card at your first meeting. Before giving your attorney a credit card payment for a retainer, reach out to other attorneys in the area. It is always a good idea to meet with more than one attorney. Litigation is not always quick and if you are putting this on a high-interest credit card, you may not be able to recover those charges, and your credit could be affected.
Discuss your expectations. Be careful of lawyers who brag about the “exceptional” settlements they have obtained. Sometimes a lawyer may reference a large judgment he or she obtained, but not tell you that the judgment remains unpaid because there was no insurance coverage or because the defendant filed bankruptcy. Discuss your expectations and make sure your attorney understands what your goal is.
References. A lawyer should be willing and able to provide you with references. Do not be afraid to ask. You should remember that one satisfied client does not mean that they are all content. Check out local search engines that allow people to give the attorney feedback.
Interview more than one lawyer. If you are uncomfortable with an attorney, trust your instincts because there is probably a reason. A competent attorney should not be threatened by the fact that you are interviewing other attorneys. And be weary of an attorney who disparages other attorneys — it is likely that such a lack of professionalism has permeated his or her practice.
Beware of fee agreements where your interests are not aligned with the attorney. In cases that are hourly and not contingency, your attorney will get paid whether you win or whether you lose. There are cases out there where homeowners have emptied their savings account, their college funds, their retirements, and maxed out their credit cards, but have recovered nothing. Guess who made money on that case? The attorney. Think long and hard about using an attorney who asks what your assets are or asks you to dig into any of these accounts.
Good attorneys are busy, but they should be accessible. Many firms have a short screening process with a legal assistant or paralegal prior to a consultation with an attorney — this is normal. Never meeting with your attorney is NOT. Do not sign up with a law firm without meeting your attorney first. It is amazing how many clients that are unhappy with their attorneys did not meet him or her before signing a fee agreement.
Law firms with more than one attorney. Beware of firms where you meet with one attorney and your case is assigned to another attorney. You may have chosen the attorney based on his or her experience or trial reputation, but your case may be assigned to an inexperienced attorney with little or no supervision. Ask the attorney which one of the attorneys will be working on your case.
Beware of legal jargon. Attorneys and doubletalk go hand in hand. If you do not understand what they are telling you — ask them to explain it to you in a different way. They may be trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Of course, many legal concepts are complicated, and not all lawyers are equally capable of explaining a situation to a non-attorney. However, it is unlikely that there will be any attorneys on your jury. If you cannot understand your attorney — will the jury be able to?