How to Hire a Lawyer

When you need a lawyer for the first time, you should first seek the answer to two questions:“What kind of lawyer should I consider?” and “Do I need a specialist?” This article examines useful ways to answer these questions.

Let’s look at how you find a lawyer.

Recommendations from someone you know. If you are willing to tell your friends about your legal situation, they can be a valuable source of information about a lawyer. A satisfied former client is a great recommendation for an attorney. Even if your friend's lawyer does not handle the type of legal situation you face, the lawyer may be able to recommend another reliable attorney.

Yellow Pages. Every lawyer who pays for a business phone line gets an entry in the Yellow Pages. The lawyers who have larger ads usually have a larger practice, because the bigger ads are very expensive.

Consider the ads that have detailed information about the firm and lawyer. The more substantive the ad, the more the attorney believes that it is important his potential clients should be informed. Typically, the more informative the ad, the more informative the lawyer. Non substantive advertisements may indicate an unwillingness for the lawyer to take time to explain complex situations during the attorney’s representation.

Television Ads. Yuch! Enough said.

TV Guide Ads. See comments under Television Ads.

The Web. This article appears on the Web because I believe visiting web sites is a good way for you to find a lawyer. The major benefit to both the client and the lawyer is the chance to learn about the lawyer and the case before deciding whether to make an appointment. This web site allows me to convey much more information to you than I could with most other methods. I hope my web site will give you some perspective about the kind of lawyer I am.

My Background. Between 1993 and 2003, I was in law partnership with Jeffrey Singer, a Baylor Law graduate. Although Jeffrey Singer and I are no longer partners, we still work on cases together. Mr. Singer specializes areas of practice that I choose not to handle: Mergers & Acquisitions, Real Estate, Family Law, Landlord-Tenant, and General Business Law such as formation of partnerships and corporations.

Working with a small firm is much more rewarding for both the client and the attorney than working with a large law firm. It allows you to establish a personal relationship with me, and not worry about an inexperienced lawyer being assigned the case, as often happens at larger firms. It allows me to decide what type of cases I take and take full responsibility for my choices. I do not have any minimum billing requirements, nor do I have to justify the amount of time I spend on a case to anyone except my client. This commitment and accountability is often not true in large law firms. Which brings us to one of the early choices facing a client: What size law firm should you hire?

What Size Firm To Hire. Big firms have lots of resources and may be the best choice if you have an enormous problem that needs lots of lawyers and staff on it right away. The trade off is the amount of money you will spend. Also, big firms typically do not provide the personal attention a small firm can give.

Because of the high fees charged by named partners in big firms, day-to-day work is often done by associates. Sometimes clients find they have trouble reaching the partner they thought they were hiring, and note that they may go through several associates during the course of the representation. The cost to the client both in time and money of constantly re-explaining the situation may not be worth it.

Also, when dealing with an associate, charges are often made for the time you talked to the associate and the time it took the associate to tell the partner what you said. Likewise if you get through to the partner, you may still be billed for the time the partner spends relating your call to the associate(s), the time the associate spends researching your problem, the time the partner spends reviewing the findings of the associate(s), and the time the partner spends explaining the findings to you. Although I do employ associates and paralegals, a client will NEVER be charged for my time discussing a matter with the associate/paralegal, or vice-versa.

Big firms often travel to court in groups. There may be a partner and several associates who are charging their time, which can become frightfully expensive very quickly. The partner may feel the client expects the partner to appear in court, but the partner may also know that the associate knows the details of the case. And success often turns on a command of the details. This does not happen in my firm.

Why Hire a Small Firm. A significant advantage in hiring a small firm is the personal attention you can get throughout the life of your legal matter. You do not have to worry so much about essential details being lost in the translation from associate to partner.

My Approach. I have certain policies I have developed over the years that I think clients appreciate. I strive to return client phone calls the day I receive them, even if only to say there have been no new developments in the case. I also copy my clients with significant correspondence on the case so they will know what is happening.

I believe there should be a written contract or retainer in every case. The retainer sets forth the scope of the engagement, the billing rate, and often establishes a trust account. Any lawyer you talk to should be willing to explain all the terms of the contract and how that lawyer bills.

I also never forget that it is your case. There is no reason to keep a client in the dark about the progress of the case. In fact, although I make recommendations at different points in the lawsuit, I believe that ultimate decisions during the lawsuit (such as settlement amounts) are the client's to make. I like having the client involved in the legal matter.

Experience Counts. There is no doubt that experience counts. With each year in practice, a lawyer encounters a wide variety of cases. A commitment to continuing legal education, such as my membership in the State Bar College and my legal specialization, are important. But what about experience with the particular problem you have? Unless you have a relatively simple case or the kind of problem that happens to many clients on a regular basis, the odds are that the lawyer you hire will not have faced your exact problem before. So what you are looking for is an attorney who knows how to think about the problem, and who is willing to do the legal research to understand the law as it applies to your set of facts. When you hire a lawyer directly, you can form a judgment about whether the lawyer can handle your case. When you hire one of the big firms, you sometimes don't even know who will do the detail work on your problem.

Why Hire a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. I am Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. That means that I achieved the experience and test requirements and I devote at least 25% of my practice to personal injury trial law. Fewer than 10% of the attorney in Texas are Board Certified. Click here to learn more about Board Certification.

If you have a civil law problem, it makes sense to hire a board certified lawyer. But what if your problem does not involve civil law? Some of the advantages in hiring a board certified trial lawyer are that you get a lawyer who has experience in trial law, who is committed to continuing legal education far above the minimums required by the State Bar, and who is not afraid to take your problem to a jury if the other side is unwilling to negotiate a suitable settlement. Experience shows that large insurance companies and corporate defense firms know that a board certified practitioner must be reckoned with.

Final Thoughts. My best piece of advice is to take your time. There is no rule that says you have to sign a contract with the first lawyer you visit. Make sure you are comfortable with the lawyer before making your decision. Make sure the lawyer is willing to answer your questions, and that you feel comfortable with the answers. A good fit between lawyer and client is essential for a successful relationship with your attorney. Feel free to contact me if you have questions. If you have been unsuccessful in retaining a lawyer, you may need to resort to self-representation called "Pro Se." You can do this in Justice of the Peace Court, also called, "Small Claims Court."

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