Hiring An Attorney
The first task in hiring an attorney is to find one who can manage the particular legal problem at issue. All attorneys are not equally skilled in every area of the law. Like many other professionals, attorneys tend to specialize in certain areas of practice such as contracts, PATENTS, family matters, taxes, personal injuries, criminal matters, and business matters. A person facing criminal charges, for example, will want to contact an attorney who specializes in criminal defense work, not a patent attorney.
Some attorneys are known for their skill in certain types of cases within a specialty. For example, a criminal defense attorney may be competent to handle any criminal case, but may be especially proficient in drunk driving cases or HOMICIDE cases. Attorneys who specialize in certain types of cases often have developed a network of helpful contacts and have a great deal of experience with the kinds of issues involved in these cases.
Some attorneys are general practitioners, proficient in a broad range of legal topics. These attorneys are generally less expensive than specialists. However, if a general practitioner is not competent in a particular area, she may need to put more time and effort into the case than would a specialist, and the client will have to pay for this extra work.
Many businesses specialize in making attorney referrals at no charge to the consumer. They offer lists of attorneys categorized by area of expertise or type of client. For example, some referral services list attorneys who specialize in representing persons of color, women, or gay men and lesbians.
After obtaining a list of qualified attorneys, the consumer should have an initial consultation with several attorneys if possible. Some attorneys offer such a consultation at no cost, whereas others may charge a nominal fee. In either case the initial consultation does not obligate the consumer to hire that attorney or firm.
At the initial consultation, the potential client should provide the attorney with as much information as possible about the case. Relevant information may include pictures, witness statements, and other documents. This information helps the attorney make an informed judgment about the case.
The attorney generally does not give legal advice at the initial consultation. Instead, the attorney will ask questions to determine whether he is able to represent the consumer. The attorney will not begin to work on the case until a fee arrangement has been reached with the consumer.
In deciding whether to retain a particular attorney, the consumer should look at a number of issues. If money is a consideration, the consumer should weigh the attorney's fee against the importance of the case. For example, the consumer may be willing to spend more money on an attorney if facing criminal charges than if involved in a minor civil matter.
If the consumer and the attorney will need to meet frequently during the representation, the consumer should consider the location of the attorney's office and required travel time.
Another consideration is personal chemistry. Attorneys and clients do not have to be friends, but they should have some rapport so that they can work together. If the consumer does not feel comfortable with an attorney, she should find another attorney.
If time is a consideration, the consumer should ask how long the attorney expects the case to last. Some attorneys work more quickly than others.
A consumer should also consider the reputation of the attorney. Attorneys usually are willing to provide a list of previous clients as references. All states have a PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY board that oversees the conduct of attorneys in the state. These boards may be able to give consumers information regarding ethical violations by attorneys. The consumer also may want to ask if an attorney has MALPRACTICE insurance, which compensates clients who are victims of incompetent legal work.
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