“Finding and Hiring an Attorney”

September 27, 2011

Statistics show that half of the people who need an attorney may not search one out because they don’t know where to turn or they don’t know how much it will cost. Even when you receive recommendations for an attorney, you may have concerns about whether you are choosing the right attorney for your legal needs.

Many of the problems we hear about when clients have hired an attorney are due to a breakdown in communication. The client must clearly state what his/her expectations are, and it is the attorney’s responsibility to tell him/her their options, if any, and what the cost and likelihood of success will be.

The following are some basic questions to ask and some helpful tips to keep in mind both before hiring a lawyer and during the course of the relationship.

How to Find an Attorney:

  • Ask for recommendations from neighbors, friends and family, etc. Neighbors and others may be able to share personal experiences with you.
  • Call the local bar association (Lawyer Referral Service).
  • The internet is now a regularly used source of free information.

Questions to Ask Once You Have Selected an Attorney:

  • Is there a fee for an initial consultation?
  • How long have you been practicing and what kind of experience do you have? (If you are going through a divorce, you will want someone who has family law experience.)
  • What is your normal hourly rate and how will I be billed?
  • Is this the type of case that can be handled on a contingency basis?
  • Do you carry malpractice insurance?
  • Have you ever been subject to a complaint against your license?

Even if you are told that the attorney doesn’t expect to be paid unless he/she gets a settlement for you, ask if there are any costs you will have to pay before a settlement is reached.

Once You are a Client, Keep in Mind the following:

  • You must be completely honest with your attorney – tell him/her even the bad stuff. Keeping things secret and not disclosing certain pieces of information may not only end up hurting your case, but may also end up costing you more in the long run.
  • All fee agreements must be in writing – make sure you are presented with a fee agreement that you understand. If you don't understand the fee agreement, ASK. You have the right to ask questions.
  • If the attorney explains something to you, and you don't understand - ask about it. Stop the conversation immediately and make sure you are clear before moving on.
  • Remain civil and polite – even under the most frustrating circumstances.
  • Attorneys do charge for their time, so numerous phone calls and e-mails will probably end up costing you time and money.
  • You should hear from your lawyer on a regular basis to keep you informed.
  • If all else fails, put your concerns in writing. It not only forces you to take the time to clearly articulate your point, but creates a record so your attorney knows exactly how long an issue has been left unresolved.
If you need a referral for an attorney, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.