How do I hire a lawyer?
By Attorney Xenophon Peters, Partner, Peters and Associates, LLP
Hiring, or what legal professionals call “retaining,” a lawyer is probably the most critical decision a person must make when deciding whether to take legal action. It also is one of the most overlooked aspects of deciding to enforce your legal rights. Deciding which lawyer to hire most likely will have the largest impact on the results you see, the stress you undergo and your overall satisfaction with the result. Living in the Las Vegas Valley, one of the most transient areas in the United States, adds another hurdle when deciding which lawyer to hire because you may not have a trusted friend or relative who has lived here for a number of years to ask for a recommendation. So, how does one go about making a confident decision?
The Las Vegas Valley is a rare location when it comes to lawyers, because of the amount of lawyer advertising that occurs here. We are surrounded by lawyers’ ads on television, radio, billboards and the Internet. Some are serious and some are borderline comedic, but a commercial alone should never be the basis for such an important decision. A commercial should be used only to be “introduced” to a lawyer or law firm, but you still should dig deeper.
The most important aspects to consider when hiring an attorney are lawyer’s experience, reputation and personal interaction with you. To determine a lawyer’s experience, start by reading his or her profile online. Typically, law firm websites include lawyer profiles, which at the very least should list the lawyer’s educational background, practice areas (types of law they practice) and examples of lawsuits he or she has worked on. This kind of information can tell you how long the person has been a lawyer, if he or she practices law in the area you need and what kind of results he or she has produced (although keep in mind, past results do not guarantee future outcomes).
Reputation can be vetted by seeing how the lawyer is graded by lawyer rating services such as AVVO, Martindale-Hubbell or Top Lawyer. Still, while such lawyer rating services are helpful, the most accurate source to uncover a lawyer’s reputation can be found by examining prior clients’ reviews and comments. Past client feedback can be found on websites such as Yelp and Google. These websites are an invaluable source to determine a lawyer’s reputation because testimonials cannot be manipulated or edited by the lawyers themselves; they are straight from the horse’s mouth. You should also understand, however, that these comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. You need to be wary of “clients” who may have an interest in making false comments whether the statement is positive or negative.
Once you have reviewed your prospective lawyer’s experience and reputation, then it is time to meet the lawyer. Pay careful attention to this process, as you will want to make mental notes of how it was to deal not only with the attorney but with his or her staff, because you most likely will have substantial interaction with the staff throughout your representation. When you do meet with someone at the law firm, make sure you meet with an actual lawyer, not a paralegal or assistant. Also, ask whether you are meeting with a partner, who are senior lawyers and often owners of the law firm, or an associate, normally a more junior attorney with less experience than a partner. During the meeting, it is important to determine how well the lawyer communicates with you. Does he or she listen and understand your goals? Does he or she explain the process and complicated legal phrases in a way you understand? Does the lawyer describe his or her policies in regards to returning your phone call and emails? Does he or she describe legal fees and costs clearly?
Also, trust your gut. Ask yourself: Is this someone I relate to? Do I trust them on an instinctual level? Am I getting straight answers to my questions, and do I get a “good feeling” from them? In the end, you may not be able to determine if you made a good choice of lawyer until after the whole process is done, but these tips should help you to make a well reasoned decision at the outset. Happy (lawyer) hunting!
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Please note: The information in this column is intended for general purposes only and is not to be considered legal or professional advice of any kind. You should seek advice that is specific to your problem before taking or refraining from any action and should not rely on the information in this column.