CHOOSING AN ATTORNEY
Here are some recommendations for finding the right attorney for you.
BEST PRACTICES FOR CHOOSING AN ATTORNEY
Finding the Right Attorney for the Job
Finding the right attorney to handle your legal matter can certainly make the difference between success and failure.
But how do you find the correct lawyer for the job? Is it the most aggressive, most assertive, most contentious guy in the local bar association? Or the least expensive guy or gal? Or the lawyer with the small office and low overhead? Or the attorney with the big office and the high overhead? Or the attorney that does “free” consultations? Or the lawyer with the best haircut?
By definition, when you need to consult an attorney, you have a problem that requires advanced knowledge, skill or training. Lawyers spend years in school studying the law, and years in practice learning how to investigate cases and how to apply the law in the real world.
Some cases are simple and can be handled well by any competent lawyer. Generally, the higher the level of complexity or conflict, the more desirable it is to have a lawyer with a higher degree of experience and expertise. But how do you determine a particular attorney’s “expertise?”.
If you have a high conflict or complex legal problem, the Fishers, Indiana office of Freedman Law recommends that you approach the hiring of an attorney as a two-step process.
First, educate yourself as much as you can about your legal problem. Get copies of all court papers and any other documents that relate to your situation (the lawyer is going to need these anyway). Go online and research the problem or issue.
The Indiana Supreme Court has a wonderful self-help center on its website that is intended to educate individuals and to assist individuals in self-representation. In the world of family law, you will find the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, the Indiana Child Support Guidelines and a downloadable child support calculator on this web site.
Indiana statutes can be accessed online at several sites. Government websites such as Indy.gov can also provide valuable information. And, of course, the Internet is a virtually endless source of information (not all of which is accurate!) Remember, the more you know about your issues and options for resolution, the better you will be able to judge the expertise of the attorney or attorneys that you interview and ultimately hire.
For the second step, Freedman Law recommends that you schedule a consultation with one or more attorneys to discuss your problem. Get to know the attorneys personality, and get specific advice and information about your situation.
Do not expect to do this for free! It is common for attorneys to offer free consultations in the areas of personal injury, bankruptcy and certain other areas of the law. But in family law and litigation, the best attorneys will typically expect to be paid for their time. It is worth paying for an hour of an attorney’s time to get as much education as you can about the legal and practical considerations that affect your issues and situation.
The information that you obtain yourself and the information that you obtain from your consultation should equip you to make much better judgments about the attorney you should hire to handle your case. Remember — if an attorney will not schedule a one-hour consultation (an interview from your standpoint) and insists that you pay a retainer and “retain” him or her before he or she will educate you, then look for another attorney!
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TIPS FOR CHOOSING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY FOR YOUR CASE
1. Speak with the attorney yourself!
Frequently, at Freedman Law, P.C., our Fishers, Indiana office receives calls from the wife, girlfriend, sister, mother or grandmother of the person with the legal problem. Typically, this person calls to ask “how much will a case cost,” a question that a competent attorney will frequently not be able to answer without obtaining much more information. Your information may not be confidential if communicated to the attorney by a third party. In addition, it is very unlikely the third party will be able to repeat the attorney’s concerns and advice to you in a coherent, comprehensive manner. If you do not speak with the attorney yourself, you will not be able to determine whether you like his or her personality, whether you believe he or she has the necessary experience, expertise and temperament to handle your case, etc. So call yourself! If work is an issue, then find an attorney that will speak with you and/or meet with you in the evening or on a weekend. After all, accessibility is another important factor in choosing an attorney.
2. Find an attorney who gives you thorough, understandable explanations of the legal and practical considerations that affect your case.
Frequently, at Freedman Law, our Fishers, Indiana office receives calls from the wife, girlfriend, sister, mother or grandmother of the person with the legal problem. Typically, this person calls to ask “how much will a case cost,” a question that a competent attorney will frequently not be able to answer without obtaining much more information. In addition, the third party will not be able to communicate the attorney’s advice to you in a coherent, comprehensive manner. And if you do not speak with the attorney yourself, you will not be able to determine whether you like his or her personality, whether you believe he or she has the necessary experience, expertise and temperament to handle your case, etc. So call yourself! If work is an issue, then find an attorney that will speak with you and/or meet with you in the evening or on a weekend. After all, accessibility is another important factor in choosing an attorney.
3. Check the potential lawyer’s credentials.
Ask for a resume or curriculum vitae. Check the attorney’s website for information about his or her experience. Check with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission to determine whether the lawyer has ever been disciplined.
4. Choose an attorney whose personality and viewpoint fits with your own.
Get someone you like with whom you communicate well, who seems to understand you and who cares.
5. Study and understand the financial aspects of engaging the attorney.
Fee agreements and financial terms should be in writing. Read carefully. It is advisable to get the advice of another attorney before entering into any fee contract.
6. Hire an attorney you can afford.
Good attorneys are generally not going to work for free. Ask for an estimate of the total cost (although it is not always possible to predict at the outset). Attorneys have different ways of charging, different retainers and different billing practices. Find an arrangement that works for you. Make sure you have the resources and support (from family or otherwise) to see the case through. It is often better not to start a matter (such as a custody case) unless you are truly able to see it through to the end.
7. Beware of blindly following recommendations from family, friends and co-workers.
Although a recommendation is a place to start, be sure to follow the advice on this page before you make a final decision.
8. Beware of thinking that the larger the firm, the better the service.
While this may be true for certain types of matters and cases, it is not necessarily true for family law cases. Larger firms often have many lawyers so you need to find out which lawyer will be handling your case and follow the steps listed above. Do not allow the firm to toss your case from lawyer to lawyer as it deems appropriate! Technology is a great equalizer in today’s marketplace, allowing solo and small firms to compete with much larger offices. So look for the right lawyer — not the “right” law firm.
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Disclaimer: The results provided are not necessarily representative of the results or of the experience of all clients or others with the lawyer/firm. Every case is different, and each client’s case must be evaluated and handled on its own merits.