How To Find A Good Lawyer When You Really Need One
We help people answer a lot of financial (and many that are more emotional than financial) questions at Financial Finesse. However, one type of question that we can’t answer is a legal one regarding issues like filing for bankruptcy, drafting an estate plan, or litigating a legal dispute. So despite all those lawyer jokes we love, we do need them from time to time. But where and how can you find a good one?
One place to start is with your employer. Ask if your employer offers discounted legal services through either a specialized program or a more general EAP (employee assistance program). While you may not find Johnny Cochran this way, it can be a great resource to get basic legal documents like a simple will and power of attorney done at a reasonable cost or to see if it’s worth taking the next step in a more complex situation.
For example, if your EAP offers a free 30-min legal consultation, you can use that time to figure out if bankruptcy might make sense or to see if you might have a valid legal claim to file a lawsuit before hiring a more expensive attorney. You can also get free legal information and find out about pro bono legal services on a site like lawhelp.org.
Once you’re ready to hire an attorney, your next step can be to ask family members, friends, and other professionals you work with for recommendations. Lawyers that you or someone else knows can be useful even if they practice in a different area because lawyers tend to know other lawyers and most importantly, which ones are most reputable. The same can be said for CPAs and financial advisers. After all, much of their professional success depends on building these relationships since so much of their business comes from referrals.
You can also try your state or local bar association’s lawyer referral service. This will at least provide you with local attorneys who practice in the area that you need. You can find your local site through the American Bar Association’s national Lawyer Referral Directory.
Once you’ve found some prospects, don’t just hire one because they happen to be first on the list. Choosing the wrong attorney can end up costing you a lot of time and money so you’ll want to interview at least 3. First, make sure the attorneys actually offer the service you’re looking for. Second, check your State Bar’s website to see if any disciplinary actions have been placed against them. You can then ask them some questions:
Who exactly will I be working with? You don’t want to find an attorney you really like only to discover that you’re handed off to a junior associate who you don’t like so much.
What are your credentials? Every lawyer admitted to the bar in your state is technically qualified to practice law but they may have also obtained a specialization, a credential like the AEP designation (Accredited Estate Planner), or an LLM (Master of Laws) in an area like tax law.
How much experience do you have working with clients like me in similar situations? You don’t necessarily want your son’s friend’s DUI lawyer drafting his first trust for you.
How would you be paid? If you’re paying a fixed fee or an hourly rate, you’ll want some idea of what this would cost you and whether it’s worth it.
Do you have any questions for me? A good attorney will be focused on your situation and needs rather than theirs.
Finally, you’ll want to work with someone you like and trust so don’t discount the importance of personality and personal chemistry. In any case, I hope these tips help you choose a good attorney. The last thing you need is another excuse for bad lawyer jokes.
Are you looking for an unbiased answer to your own financial question? Once a week, we’ll be responding on this blog to questions from our Financial Helpline or posted on our Twitter or Facebook site.
Liz Davidson is the founder and CEO of Financial Finesse, the leading provider of unbiased financial education for employers nationwide, delivered by on-staff CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals.
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