March 1, 2007

How To Find A Good Attorney (really!)

There are few things harder than finding a good competent attorney (some would say it's impossible; insert your favorite lawyer joke here). Unless you deal with lawyers on a frequent basis, you probably have little exposure to the legal profession. And, usually if you find yourself in the position of looking to hire a lawyer, it probably means that something bad has happened - either you're looking to sue someone or someone is suing (or worse, prosecuting) you, and you need help STAT. So, how in the world do you find a good lawyer? Here are some tips:
  1. Make sure the attorney is admitted to the Bar in the state in which that lawyer practices. However, keep in mind that being a member of the Bar is by no means an indicator of the lawyer's quality - it is merely a minimum gate necessary to practicing law.

  2. Check the lawyer's disciplinary record. Most states have public databases maintained by the states' respective supreme courts and can provide information about whether the lawyer has ever faced any disciplinary actions or sanctions.

  3. Check with your network. Because law is a service profession, nothing is more important than reputation. Talk to your friends, family, business associates, etc. to get recommendations.

  4. TV and print ads tell you little about an attorney's quality other than the fact that the attorney paid money for that advertising. Because most states have ethics rules limiting what lawyers can say in advertising, there's little that can be gleaned from those ads. That's why you never see anything more than some guy in a suit sitting in front of an imposing bookshelf of fancy-looking tomes (most of which are there for decoration as most legal research is now done online).

  5. Look for the right specialist for your situation. If you're looking for a divorce attorney, it makes no sense to hire a criminal defense attorney, even if that person is the second coming of Johnny Cochran.

  6. If all else fails and you're forced to cold-call attorneys, look for someone who appears diligent and responsive. If the attorney doesn't return messages promptly, it's probably an indicator of things to come.

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