3 Questions Your Lawyer Needs to Answer Before You Hire Them
Retaining an attorney is serious business, so one should not take a cavalier approach to engaging legal representation, no matter the type of legal issue. Due diligence includes asking an attorney three key questions before you hire counsel.
1. What is your background in regard to my type of case?
The most fundamental area to explore when retaining counsel is usually the attorney’s level of experience. This includes inquiring about a lawyer’s educational background. Keep in mind that some lawyers have advanced degrees in different legal disciplines. In addition, some attorneys have advanced degrees in other areas, like an MBA. These non-legal advanced degrees may be helpful in certain types of legal matters.
You also should explore what experience an attorney has in the specific area of the law in which you need representation. It is all well and good for a lawyer to have practiced law for 20 years, but if he or she does not have specific experience in regard to your type of case, that may be problematic.
2. What fees and costs will be charged and how will they be assessed?
One of the most common types of disputes that develop between an attorney and their client is over fees. During the process of interviewing an attorney as potential legal counsel, you need to make sure to ask the lawyer directly about fees and costs, as well as how they will be calculated and assessed.
It is important to have a clear understanding of exactly how fees will be assessed and how they will be charged. Similarly, you may need to understand how costs of pursuing the case will be dealt with during the course of representation. For example, will the lawyer front expenses until a settlement of judgment is obtained, or will you be expected to pay for case-related fees as the matter progresses?
There are three common types of fee arrangements used by attorneys nowadays. Under an hourly fee arrangement, a client pays for work as it is done. The client usually is required to pay a retainer upfront, which can be thought of as something of a deposit on the cost of services to be rendered. Second, a flat fee is one in which an attorney charges one set amount of money for representation. Finally, a contingency fee is one in which a lawyer charges a client a fee only if a favorable settlement or judgment in a case is obtained.
This fee agreement will likely be in writing, which should be closely reviewed before signing.
3. What is Your Caseload Like?
An oftentimes overlooked, but extremely important, query is about a lawyer’s caseload. You probably want to find an attorney who is not so overworked that he or she actually lacks the appropriate amount of time to adequately focus on your case.
At the other extreme, you do not necessarily want an attorney who has a very small caseload. This could be indicative of a lawyer who may not receive high marks from prior clients.
Additionally, an attorney should be willing to provide you with references. Depending on the circumstances, references may be former clients or colleagues.
When to Make Inquiries
The best way to have the opportunity to ask questions of a potential legal representative is to schedule an initial consultation. An initial consultation gives a lawyer the opportunity to learn more about your legal issue, and also gives you the chance to ask questions of a lawyer.
Whether they’re an estate planning, criminal or DC personal injury lawyer, attorneys usually do not charge a fee for an initial consultation with a potential client, but you may want to confirm this before scheduling a meeting.
Thanks to our friends and co-contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their added insight into picking the right attorney for you.