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Retaining Counsel: What to Look For When Choosing Your Attorney

Author: R Stell Date: December 03, 2007

When selecting an attorney, you should consider two separate aspects: knowledge in the field and how you will be treated as a client.

The first aspect, knowledge in the field, includes both educational credentials and experience. Before selecting an attorney, determine the following:

  • Education and fields of specialization, such as bankruptcy, criminal work, workers' compensation and injury, or copyright and intellectual property
  • Experience the attorney has, not only in your general area, but also in the specific matters of law that pertain to your project or case. When interviewing an attorney during the hiring process, ask how much experience he or she has. Handling one case similar to yours a decade ago may indicate that the attorney is not familiar with current laws and regulations.
  • Will the attorney handle your work personally or use paralegals and other associates? Nothing is wrong with this, per se, but you should know in advance the credentials and experience of the person who will be working for you.
  • Are you comfortable with the attorney's charges? Ask for an estimate on the total work rather than the attorney's hourly rate. This will allow you to budget for the expense and make sure that the total price is in your comfort zone.
  • Will the attorney work on a contingency basis, which means that you will owe nothing if you lose your case?
  • Will the attorney and his associates stand behind their work? For example, will they help you with a federal or state audit, in the case of taxation problems; or will they pursue different avenues at reasonable cost if their first plans are not successful?

The second important aspect to consider when selecting an attorney is how you will be treated as a client. The following intangible yet important items could be considered a client's Bill of Rights.

  1. Your attorney should keep you informed about expenses as they accrue and should notify you in advance if work will result in charges that exceed estimates. Your attorney should not add unexpected charges to your bills.
  2. At your request, your attorney should let you read and approve outgoing letters, statements, memos or other communications involving your project or case. Often, attorneys try to save time by simply sending out communications without client approval.
  3. You should feel comfortable asking questions. If you constantly feel rushed when you begin to speak or if you are made to feel that your questions are unimportant, you should consider hiring a different attorney.
  4. Your attorney and his or her associates and staff should return your phone calls promptly. Nothing is more aggravating than having to call your attorney repeatedly just to get through. "Promptly" means within half a day, at most, unless he or she is traveling or in court. In both these situations, however, an associate or staff member should phone to let you know that your call has been received and will be returned at the earliest moment.
  5. Your attorney should actively and creatively look for ways to do your work faster and cheaper to reduce your overall legal fees. This implies, of course, that the overall quality of work on your behalf will not be compromised.

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