The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Lawyer- Tips and Tricks to getting the, "Right Lawyer" for your case.
At some point in your life you're going to need a lawyer. Maybe you are in criminal trouble, need to get a divorce or you've been injured in a car accident. You may find yourself wondering, "How do I get the Right lawyer for my case?" It can be a daunting task searching out a lawyer and then interviewing and putting your faith in someone you don't know. Here is a simple guide, written by a lawyer, to help you choose the right lawyer for your case.
1. Ask yourself, "Am I Going to Be Comfortable Talking to This Person?"
When you are talking with a criminal defense lawyer and sitting in their office and asking some questions, there are some factual things that you can determine. You can talk about their trial experience. You can talk about their plan. But one thing you really need to focus on is are you going to be comfortable talking to this person? You are going to have to remember during the course of your case you are going to have some tough conversations with your lawyer. You are going to have to talk about some things that might make you uncomfortable, things that you might not be proud of. You are going to have to look at this person across the desk and know that they have your back. You have to know your lawyer isn't judging you. They are going to have to make you feel comfortable so you can give them the information that they need to know to best help you. When you are determining if you are going to hire somebody, one of the most important things is just being comfortable that you can tell that person something that you are not proud of and they are not going to judge you for it. They are going to help you and take whatever information you give them and use it to your advantage.
2. Ask, "What is the plan and what is the backup plan for my type of case?"
When a person comes into my office they will generally want to know what is going to happen in their case. That is the wrong question. Any lawyer that answers what is going to happen after only hearing a limited set of facts in your case and only your side of the story, don’t hire that lawyer. The question presented of what is going to happen in my case is simply a throw away question. It is an opportunity for the lawyer to tell you the best case scenario. That is not what is accurate in your case. That is not what you want to hear in your case. A better question isn’t what is going to happen in my case. But what is the plan of attack on my case to get me a good result and then what is the backup plan in case that plan falls through? Then, what can I do, as an individual charged with a crime, right now to advance both the plan and the backup plan so that I get a good result from my case?
3. Ask, "Who will be involved in my case and how do they work on cases?"
When people come into my office a lot of times they want to know what is going to be the result. Having the uncertainty of what is going to happen in a case or what could possibly happen or what kind of punishment someone is facing is often the most difficult thing for a person to get over. They want to know what the result is going to be. That is just simply the wrong question to ask when you come into a lawyer’s office. If a lawyer answers that question and tell you what is going to happen on your case, that is probably not the lawyer you want to hire because that lawyer has already predetermined what the result and outcome is going to be in your case. They won’t look at the evidence on the case. They won’t spend the time necessary trying to get you a better result. What you need to ask is, who is involved in my case? What is the judge like in my case? What is the prosecutor like? What are their tendencies? Who are the people that are involved in my case and how can I use that information to give them what they want? What can I do to put myself in the best situation so that I can meet all of those people’s needs if I am ever standing tall answering to this crime?
4. Ask the Lawyer, "Do I Even Need a Lawyer for my case?"
Don’t be afraid to ask the lawyer that you are talking with if you even need a lawyer for your particular situation. People come into my office all the time with some sort of minor legal problem and I will tell them, “I’ll help you if you want me to handle this problem. But you could do A,B, and C and get a resolution that is just as good on your own.” If someone will tell you that you don’t need to hire them for this particular situation, that is a lawyer you want to remember. It is a lawyer that whenever you do need help you can come back to them and remember when this lawyer put your interests above their interest. That is the lawyer you want to hire.
5. Don’t Ask a Lawyer What Their Win Loss Record Is? Ask this instead...
A pretty common question that people ask when they come in is, “What is your record on wins and losses in this type of case?” Don’t hire a lawyer that answers that question. If they can track what their win and loss record is in a particular type of case, then they haven’t had enough of those cases. Also, what is a win and what is a loss? That is the better question. Ask the lawyer, instead of a win and loss record, in this particular type of case what is a win and what is a loss? That varying degree of what a win and a loss is varies for different people. A win for some people might be taking a conviction but staying out of jail if they have a lot of criminal history. But some people might consider that a complete loss if they end up with a criminal record. It depends on the person’s criminal history and the set of facts they have. If a person has a terrible set of facts, well a win might be keeping it off their record and out of jail. If a person has a great set of facts, working out some sort of deal where it is kept off their record and they are kept out of jail might be a complete loss. You just have to value each case specifically on the facts that are in that case and then what is a win and a loss for that particular person. Some sort of arbitrary 3-0, 0-5 number that a person might spit out when you ask them their win and loss record on this type of case is really completely irrelevant. What is important is what is a win and what is a loss and how many people obtain their results that were a win for them as opposed to a loss for them.
6. Don't Ask How Long a Lawyer Has Been Practicing Law, Ask this instead...
A common question that people have when they come into a prospective lawyer’s office is to say, “How long have you been practicing law?” That is an important question. But it is not as relevant as you might think. What a better question is, “How long have you been practicing in the specific area of law in which I need help with?” If you come in and ask just how many years you've been practicing law and the person says 30 years. But you don’t qualify that as to how long have they been practicing criminal defense. That person might have spent 29 years practicing real estate law and just one year doing criminal defense cases. It is a far better question to ask, “How long have you been doing this particular area of law?” An even better question is, “Have you had a case similar to this?” Those are going to give you a lot better information than just the question of how long they have been practicing law.
7. Hire the Lawyer who asks you, "Why should I take your case?"
A pretty common question that people ask when they come in is usually at the end of the consult. We would have talked about the facts of the case and the possible outcomes and given some plans on how we can get those outcomes and laid out some ideas. Then the person will say, “Brandan, tell me why I should hire you as my lawyer?” A lot of lawyers will use this as their springboard to tell you about how great they are. They have specialized training in that particular area of law. They have tried this amount of cases. They are going to have the best client contact with you. Any number of things to give you their sales pitch as to why they are the best lawyer. That is all fine and good and most lawyers will do that. The lawyer that you want to hire probably looks right back at you and says, “Why don’t you tell me why I need to spend my time helping you? Why don’t you tell me why I want to take your case on?” The lawyer you want to hire is in demand. The lawyer that you want to hire has other people that need their help. You don’t want to hire the lawyer who needs your business. You have to remember that a good lawyer, someone who does that specific area of law in which you need help and they do it well, is in demand. You want that lawyer to want to help you just as much as you want to hire that person.
8. Don't Fall for a Salesman.
Don’t fall for a salesman. What I mean by this is when you are interviewing a lawyer it is pretty easy to determine whether the person knows what they are talking about. If you ask them a question and they give you a direct answer that is a pretty good sign. Those are things that are easy to weed out. If the person can’t tell you how much trouble you are in or can’t tell you about the crime, the elements of the crime, how much potential punishment you could be facing, those are all factual things. A step past that is when you are talking about the people involved in your case. What the prosecutor is like in your case, who the judge is, what the judge is like on your case. Again, those are pretty easy to tell whether someone is giving you factually accurate information or not. If they can’t tell you the name of the prosecutor, if they cant tell you how a judge sees this case, that is probably not the lawyer you want to hire. If you make it past those two steps and you are talking with your lawyer, if the lawyer gives you pushback and says, "no that is not how it is going to occur." Maybe they tell you something that you don’t want to hear. That is the lawyer you want to hire. A person that is going to tell you everything will be fine and not give you any pushback on any of your questions or information they are giving you is probably more of a salesperson. A salesperson wants to get you to sign on the dotted line. They want to get your money and do the limited amount of work they can on your case and then be done with it. A lawyer that cares about your case wants to get you the best result. In doing that, sometimes they have to give you some pushback. They have to tell you what you might not want to hear but this is how this case is going to work. These are the issues in your case. These are the problems with your case. That is the lawyer you want to hire. Don’t fall for a salesperson. Make sure that the lawyer you are interviewing actually cares about your case.
9. Don't Hire a Lawyer Who Tells You What Is Going to Happen With Your Case in the first meeting.
What is going to happen in my case? That is the question that everybody wants to know. They come into your office, have been accused of a crime or they are going to be accused of a crime and they tell you the fact pattern in their case and they want to know what is going to happen. Don’t hire a lawyer who tells you what is going to happen after just hearing your side of the case. A lawyer can say, “I have had cases similar with this set of facts in the past and this happened.” A lawyer can say, “I can see these different things happening in your case.” But if lawyer says this is going to happen in your case and the results, don’t hire that lawyer. That lawyer is basically telling you that they are not going to spend a lot of time on your case and look at the evidence critically to get you out of the case. They are not going to apply new case law to your case and see if they can get you out of this trouble. What you need is someone who says the realm of possibilities but right now they need to obtain other information and see what they know. They want to do an investigation and read case law. That is the type of information that is going to give you a better outcome as opposed to just telling you right then and there what is going to happen. You want the lawyer who is going to do the work. Not just make you feel good in the moment.
10. Ask the Lawyer, "What questions should I be asking you that I'm not asking?"
When you are interviewing with a prospective lawyer you are going to have concerns and questions. That is why you're there. To get those questions answered. Once you clear through the questions you had when you walked in, it is probably a good idea to ask the lawyer, “What questions should I be asking? What do I not know?” The odds are if you are in trouble it might be your first time being in trouble in this situation. You might not know what you don’t know. The lawyer generally has had a lot of experience in this specific area of the law and let you know what you didn’t ask them.These are things that people want to know that are important to your specific matter. This is also a good way to weed out whether a lawyer knows what they are doing or not. If you ask a lawyer, “What questions did I not ask you? What questions do I need to know the answer to?” If that lawyer says that you've covered it, unless that has been an hour long consult already, then you probably need to seek out another lawyer to talk to. There is a lot of information and even with the most simple criminal matter the lawyer needs to convey to a person so they have a good base level knowledge to ask questions off of.
11. Looking for a trial lawyer? Look around their office for clues that they take cases to trial.
When you are interviewing a prospective lawyer, someone that is going to help you out with a criminal defense case, you are going to want to ask about their trial experience. But how can you trust what they are saying? How can you make sure you know this person tried this many cases or they have had a case similar to mine? Let me give you a bit of an outside the box way of helping you determine if this person is a trial lawyer or if they are just someone telling you stories of someone else's trial success. Simply look around their office. When you are sitting in the criminal defense lawyer’s office interviewing, just look around. If they are a true trial lawyer they are probably going to have lots of things relating to a trial that they have upcoming. There is probably going to be big poster boards with maybe blow ups of evidence. There might be big binders full of documents or discovery that has been disclosed. It is all tabbed up ready to go for trial. They might have manuals of a police training or standard field sobriety test training or something like that. Look around their office for evidence that that person is a trial lawyer. Other things you might look for is lawyers are like everyone else. They like to take trophies. Sometimes you will see framed artwork of trial exhibits and verdict forms. Don’t just take the person you are interviewing’s word for their trial experience, just look around their office and see what other things might indicate you are talking to a trial lawyer.
12. Look for a lawyer that is direct with you but also listens to you.
When you are interviewing with a lawyer, get someone who is direct with you. It is a fine line that the lawyer has to walk between being direct and being rude, and between being direct and not listening. You want someone that is going to be direct with you but also listens to you. The most valuable tool that a lawyer has is to listen to the client. The client is the person that actually lived the events, who has the inside knowledge that the lawyer needs to best represent the client. But, you also want someone that is direct with you and tell you like it is, even if that is not want you want to hear. An example of this is people are rarely just given cart blanche to talk about themselves and talk about a problem they have. Sometimes people whenever you are interviewing with a lawyer, and the lawyers says, “Okay, tell me the story. Tell me what happened.” That person will start to go off on a tangent. They will tell their story and then they will tell their feelings behind the story. Then they will tell the feelings behind those feelings. What you want is a lawyer that is going to keep you on track. They are going to talk to you and say, “I understand that might be something that is a concern to you, but it is not relevant to the case at hand.” We don’t need to know about your relationship with your cousin’s brother's uncle fifteen years ago if it is not directly relevant to the facts in this case. Your lawyer needs to keep you on point and be direct with you. The reason that is also important is it is going to save you money. You have to remember lawyers get paid by the hour. If a lawyer is going to just let you go off on a tangent for thirty minutes, that is not going to benefit your case and it is not going to benefit your pocket book. Your lawyer has to be direct with you and cognizant that their time is your money. Also, you have to remember you don't want your lawyer to be your most expensive friend. Your lawyer is charging you by the hour to work on your case. Don’t make that lawyer your therapist. Get a lawyer that is direct with you, that keeps you on point, keeps you at the task at hand. That is one thing you need to look for when you are seeking out a lawyer to help with your case.