Hiring an attorney is an intensive process. You will often hear about people complaining about their relationship with their attorney. Issues can be avoided if you make a concerted effort to avoid the following common mistakes when hiring an attorney.
Hiring an attorney with little experience
People often hire an attorney that has little or no experience in the area of practice in which they seek representation. A person that has used an attorney to handle one area of the law may not want to have that same attorney handle another area of the law. Even if the past representation was excellent, that attorney may be the wrong choice for a different facet of the law.
The practice of law has become increasingly specialized and there are fewer and fewer general practitioners who can effectively handle multiple practice areas. If you choose an attorney who concentrates in your particular area that you need help in, you stand a much greater chance of success. You can increase your chances of success even further if you find an attorney who not only concentrates in your particular area, but also has had a lengthy track record of experience in the particular area.
There is no substitute for experience. It can take up to five years to become proficient in an area of practice if the attorney engages in that area consistently. For an attorney who does only one or two cases like yours per year, he likely will never become proficient in that area.
Choosing an attorney solely on price
People sometimes choose an attorney solely on price. Don’t let price be the determining factor when hiring an attorney. It should be one of many factors, but never the only factor. This price shopping mentality could be a very critical mistake depending upon the area of law.
A quality attorney can often wind up saving a client a substantial amount of money by knowing how to properly handle a case. Saving a little money in the initial hiring process can sometimes lead to bigger losses in the long run. The old adage that you get what you pay for is often true.
Now, that is not to say that a less expensive attorney is always inferior or that a less expensive attorney will provide subpar representation. However, you should never hire the $99.99 attorney just because they are the cheapest. That attorney may be less experienced. That attorney may be able to charge less because he does less. He may not be willing to respond to your questions or attend to the details required to make your case go smoothly. Beware of attorneys who advertise a very low introductory fee and then add on for additional services that other attorneys may include in their flat fee agreements.
At the same time, you shouldn’t hire an attorney who was charging an exorbitant amount, either. We live in a capitalistic society and some attorneys charge the moon and the stars for their services. The most expensive attorney is not necessarily the best.
You should focus on hiring quality representation that leads to positive results. A respected attorney delivers that benefit for a reasonable fee and would provide a written contract describing his services in an understandable form contract.
Failing to ask critical questions
People often don’t ask critical questions at the hiring stage as to the attorney’s ability, experience, knowledge and rate of success. Be prepared to ask direct questions of the prospective attorney. After all, you are the consumer and you should have a clear picture of the attorney that you are hiring.
When hiring an attorney, you should ask yourself…
- How many cases of this nature does he handle and what percentage of his practice involves this area?
- Will he personally oversee the case or just delegate it to an associate or legal assistant?
- Will he be available for ongoing questions either in person or on the telephone?
- How many years has the attorney been engaged in the particular area and what is his success rate?
- Can he provide any names of satisfied clients?
- Does the attorney take ongoing legal education training in the particular area?
- Is he a member of any local, state or national organizations that relate to the particular area?
- What is his reputation among his peers?
- Would he be able to provide any references?
- Does he have any published works on the subject or has he prepared any helpful educational material on the subject that you can review?
These are just some of the questions that should be asked at the initial interview stage.
Your legal situation is of great importance in your life. Take the time to ask the prospective attorney some uncomfortable questions. The answers will be very telling. You will know within minutes whether or not you are meeting with a qualified attorney who is right for you.
Overpaying in return for inferior service
Never overpay for an inferior service. Attorneys are in the service business. If they are not providing excellent client service, then they are not worth hiring. The client should have great access to the attorney and to their personal file information. Some attorneys charge a high premium yet provide very poor service. Some attorneys restrict access by limiting the times, days and hours that file information can be obtained.
Make sure that you will be treated with respect at all times. And that means having your questions answered or telephone calls returned within a reasonable period of time. Make sure that the attorney or law firm that you hire values you as a client and that you are not perceived as just another number. Will you receive friendly treatment from the attorney and the staff? These are factors that you should greatly consider when choosing an attorney.
When you meet with an attorney for the first time at his office, evaluate the service factor of both the attorney and the staff. Is this a place that you would feel comfortable dealing with for weeks or months? What does your gut say with regard to the services being provided?
Not checking the attorney’s status and references
Not checking the attorney’s status with the licensing board and not checking with any references if they were provided is the final critical mistake to avoid. Wouldn’t you like to know if the attorney that you are interested in hiring is listed in good standing? What if there were outstanding complaints against that attorney for neglect or worse? These are issues that would certainly affect your hiring decision if you were aware of them.
Also, did you check with any of the references that were provided? Did you call every one of the names provided to see if they would highly recommend the attorney? Was their case even remotely similar or in the same area of law as yours? Have them point out at least one weakness in the attorney’s representation or at least one area that could use improvement.
A little effort at the outset of your case by way of research can make a world of difference in your choice of attorneys.
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