Choosing a lawyer is a very intense and personal process. People hire attorneys when they are at a crisis point in their lives. They may be scared, angry, and nervous about the future.
Therefore, it is important that you find an attorney whom you feel comfortable with and can trust to do what is in your best interest. Having an attorney that you can trust to help you make the best decisions will benefit your peace of mind enormously.
But how can you trust a total stranger?
And where are you supposed to find an attorney in the first place?
Well, the best way to begin your search for an attorney is to start doing research. There is no surefire method of hiring an attorney that will guarantee the results you are entitled to, but there are some things you should consider as well as avoid...
1) Referral Services
Referral services are networks of attorneys. The referral service directs people in search of an attorney with a participating attorney whose practice area best matches their needs. Referral services advertise regularly on radio, TV, billboards, internet and other media.
Attorneys pay to maintain a listing on these referral services. Either the attorney pays a direct sum or the referral service receives a percentage of the lawyer’s fees. These fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, monthly or annually.
Referral services do not generally maintain any type of quality control standards. Some referral services require its attorneys to carry legal malpractice insurance, but that is usually the extent to any requirements. This is not to say that there are attorneys who are not qualified that receive referrals through referral services. However, you should be aware that there are no guarantees.
2) Television Advertising
Over the past two decades, attorney advertising rules have relaxed to the point that there is now little meaningful information you can obtain from advertisements. Very few indications can help you decide which attorney is best suited to assist you.
Most attorney commercials on television are 30 seconds long. Other than being familiar with seeing someone frequently, it is rare that anyone who advertises on television can impart any real meaningful information about himself or herself enough to encourage you to trust your case with him or her.
Interestingly, many large television-advertising law firms are nothing more than referral services. The attorneys who are given the cases must pay the attorney who is the “spokesperson” a percentage of your case.
What is wrong with that, exactly?
Well, you may think that the attorney spending all the money on the TV advertising campaign must be successful, but this is not always the truth. In reality, if attorneys need to settle cases to pay monthly advertising and the “spokesperson” (the attorney on television) needs funds to pay for the ads, your case could get settled on the cheap and you would not even know it. Sometimes, clients are even advised to settle their case when, in fact, short-term considerations are not for the clients, but for the attorneys.
Truthfully, many of these firms must have a volume business and regularly turn over cases; otherwise, they cannot survive.
3) Billboard Advertisements
Many lawyers pay for billboards and other advertisements promoting the amount that past clients have received in their particular case. These ads are somewhat misleading since they only reveal the amount of money recovered by the attorney, not the amount that the client received from the case.
There is seemingly no accountability for the type of case, type of insurance coverage, injuries, amount of wage loss, family structure, and other important factors. The only information given is the gross amount of money that they received, and I have serious concerns for any individual who chooses a lawyer based on a billboard they saw or some large amount of money they heard about. After all, those factors have absolutely no bearing on how much your case is truly worth.
Your case could be worth thousands (if not millions more), or it may not even be comparable at all in value to the person's case that the advertisement is based on.
4) Referral from Friends or Family
Getting an attorney recommendation from a friend or family member is an important step in receiving solid legal representation. However, you should keep in mind that a positive recommendation from a friend is based upon the specific results of that friends’ case. In other words, the amount of money they received is dependent on the specific details of their case, and has no influence on the outcome of your case.
Ultimately, if you are given a referral by a friend or family member, listen for more important factors that could have encouraged the recommendation. For instance:
- Was the attorney’s staff kind and courteous?
- Did the attorney keep them informed throughout the process?
- Did the attorney have a solid plan?
- Did they guide your friend or family member in selecting the best medical care? Were they generally supportive and interested?
Remember that a recommendation based on efficiency, support, responsiveness, and organization is much more valuable when deciding which attorney can best assist you with your case.
5) Referral From Another Lawyer
You may have a friend who is also an attorney that you can trust to make a reliable recommendation for you. However, there are pros and cons to hiring an attorney based on the recommendation of another attorney.
A fair question to ask the attorney who refers you to someone else is, “What’s in it for you?” Will that attorney receive a referral fee? You should be concerned if there is no discussion of or mention that the attorney making the referral expects to receive a referral fee ranging from 10 to 25 percent.
Overall, I think the best advice when considering whether or not to hire an attorney is to take the time to truly understand the cost structure, and to have a strong understanding of your case and the risks involved. It is also very critical to understand the experience, background, and motivations of all parties involved in your case.
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