How to pick an attorney

You are faced with a legal issue, usually one that is pressing such as a criminal or traffic charge, bankruptcy or divorce. How do you select an attorney? Referrals are always nice, because usually when someone is referring you to a law firm, they know first hand that the attorney is competent and has satisfactorily handled a similar legal issue for the client referring you to them. My law firm leaves and breaths on referrals of past clients, and if you are lucky enough to have a trusted friend or family member to refer you to a law firm, then that is a great way to find one. However, if you do not have a referral, you can quickly be consumed in the areas of attorney marketing.

There are hundreds of websites out there that will drive your leads to an attorneys office, but really all you are getting is a referral from a company you have never done business with to an attorney who is paying top dollar to get your information for marketing purposes. There is also the yellow pages. If you have trouble sleeping at night, grab your most recent yellow page directory and thumb through the attorney section. There will be pages and pages of "double truck" (two full page ads side by side), followed by full page, half page, quarter page and other ads. If you need a personal injury attorney is the first guy the best? The second one? Or the last one? All the yellow pages do is allow attorneys to spend big money to try to capture the attention of the 6-10% left in the country who still use the yellow pages for assistance in locating goods and services. Despite all the money that attorneys spend to market their practices, there is simply no way to rely on marketing efforts to successfully chose an attorney to handle your legal needs. However, you have to start somewhere, so if you are relying on advertising alone to find an attorney, here is some advice. First, before you even contact an attorney for a consultation, run his/her name through the Virginia State Bar's disciplined attorney database. Here is the link: http://www.vsb.org/attorney/attSearch.asp?S=D The search is very basic, in that all you need is the first and last name of the attorney. The database will give you very relevant information as to whether the attorney you are contemplating as been sanctioned by the State Bar for misconduct. Just because an attorney has been sanctioned does not mean he is not a good choice. But you have to do your due diligence to investigate the background of the attorney. Second, using the same website for the Virginia Bar, check for attorneys who do not have malpractice insurance and if they are not in good standing with the bar. You can do so here: http://www.vsb.org/attorney/attSearch.asp Having malpractice insurance is not required as a condition of being licensed in Virginia, but if they do not carry malpractice insurance and something goes wrong in your case, you are going to have problems with collecting against the attorney for a claim you may have. Most attorneys have malpractice insurance. If the one you are contemplating is on the list, you should avoid them. Third, if the attorney is not in good standing (suspended or revoked) he/she cannot practice law at this time. You should not contact them under any circumstance until they are reinstated into good standing status. Once you have done basic due diligence with the Bar, then check on line reviews. Google, bing and lawyers.com and avvo.com have review forums. It is very difficult to get clients to take time to write good reviews. So if the attorney you are selecting does not have a lot of reviews it is not a bad thing. But if the reviews have a ton of negative comments, take that into consideration. Keep in mind, all of these things should be done BEFORE you make the first call to the attorney. Once you have decided to contact the attorney, and contact their office, pay attention to a lot of the details in the first call. How long are you on hold? Is the staff polite and nice? Is the attorney polite and helpful. The first consultation is when everyone is putting their best foot forward. If they are rude, arrogant or unhelpful in the beginning there is no reason to believe that is going to improve over time. If you have an office appointment, pay attention to the offices. Does the office appear to be neat and efficient? Or does it look like a small tornado hit the interior of some offices. Law offices that are neat and organized are more likely on top of their files. Whereas offices that are in chaos are likely going to miss important events in client files. Will you have a dedicated paralegal assigned to your case or will there be a team of paralegals and assistants on your case. Generally when one paralegal is assigned to a file, she will know what is going on all the time. A team approach is not necessarily bad, but you do not want to call the office and every time speak to someone different. Getting you through the legal issues in your case is the goal and it will be better for you if you do not have to reacquaint yourself with different staff every time you have contact with the firm. Finally what are the attorney fees to handle the case? Previously I have written about the difference between hourly, flat fee and contingency fee cases. If you do not know the difference, read this article: http://www.virginialawoffice.com/blog/?Tag=are+attorney+fees+negotiable Understand your financial commitment to a law firm before you engage them. Also shop around to at least one or two other firms. It is amazing to me when I consult with clients who have met with firms who are charging 5-6x more money then what is appropriate. Do not make a mistake that many do in thinking that the more you pay the better the service. Be careful how you spend your money because just because an attorney may not charge as much as a competitor does not mean they are not just as good (or even better) than the attorney charging double the fee. When you speak to 2-3 attorneys you should be able to see the range of fees and then make a decision that best suits your case and your financial situation. Picking an attorney is a difficult thing to do. These are some guidelines that I hope help you make the best decision. My firm handles Bankruptcy, Criminal Defense, Family Law, Divorce, Personal Injury, Intellectual Property, Estate Law and Aviation Law. If we can help you in any way, please feel free to contact the office for a consultation.

Timothy Anderson

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