There are scores of reasons and occasions that may require legal advice or action. When it’s time to find an attorney, making a choice can seem complicated. Take methodical steps to research, seek recommendations, and prepare before you make a selection.
The law is complex and changes rapidly. No one can keep up with every aspect, so most lawyers and even firms specialize in a particular area of the law. Find an attorney who has experience relevant to your case, whether it be divorce, contracts, wills, and probate, or civil concerns. An attorney who regularly drafts wills may not be the best choice to represent you in a courtroom if the problem is an auto accident.
Ask family, friends, or colleagues for recommendations if they have hired a lawyer in the past. Check out websites and social media to home in on law firms or individuals who match your needs.
When reviewing attorney biographies, note their professional activities, associations, and credentials. Are they leaders in organizations or have they just paid to be a member? Have they lectured or published work about legal areas relevant to your issues? Have they won awards for their work? Active participation in professional associations may indicate that the attorney is on top of trends and techniques applicable to your case.
If an attorney is not respected in the legal community, this could impact your case. Look for reviews from both previous clients and peers, ask for references, check the state bar website for disciplinary records, or ask attorney friends what they know about your candidate. The following sites and many others indicate the lawyer’s field of practice, their experience, their credentials, and endorsements from colleagues and former clients.
Avvo.com displays attorneys by practice area and further narrows down the list by city, state, name, and legal topic. The site claims that it has rated 97% of U.S. lawyers and offers answers to 14.2 million legal questions and live advice for free. SuperLawyers.com is a similar directory site listing attorneys with a high degree of peer recognition.
The State Bar of Arizona allows you to confidentially state your legal needs on its website. Lawyers interested in helping will make contact by email for review and selection. https://azbar.legalserviceslink.com.
The American Bar Association offers online public service-oriented referral services and tools to find the right lawyer and legal subscription plans that provide subscribers who pay a modest monthly cost to access lawyers to handle basic legal problems. www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_services/flh-home/flh-hire-a-lawyer.
Contact and Query
Use a website form or social media contact to initiate contact with an attorney, or call to speak to them directly. They should be able to answer some basic questions about how the law applies to you and explain the process toward resolving your case. Ask about the law firm or individual attorney and how they handle cases such as yours. The responses should go a long way toward deciding if this is a good fit. Talk to several attorneys to find the most comfortable fit and comfortable price point before making an initial consultation, which will have a cost. You will want to know about the fee structure before proceeding to that consultation.
There are three general ways attorneys will charge: by the hour (which could range from $100 to $1,000), a one-time flat fee, or by contingency (percentage of the amounts covered). A contingency fee may apply in a personal injury case; certain business transactions may come at a flat rate; most matters will be billed by the hour. Lawyers are required to discuss fees upfront with potential clients.
Depending on the type of fee structure, ask some key questions. If it is on an hourly fee basis, ask the hourly rate; the minimum billing increments; if there is a charge for every phone call, letter, and e-mail; an estimate of how many hours the case may take; what other expenses might be required; and what happens if the case takes longer than anticipated.
If it’s a contingency arrangement, ask about the likelihood of recovery; an estimate of the recovery; the percentage being charged by the attorney; the percentage most lawyers charge for the same type of case; anticipated expenses; and what happens if the case settles immediately.
There are organizations in Arizona that provide legal assistance for free or at a reduced cost. Visit www.azlawhelp.org or call (866) 637-5341. AZLawHelp.org is a project of the Arizona Bar Foundation in partnership with Southern Arizona Legal Aid Inc., Community Legal Services, Inc., DNA People’s Legal Services, Inc., William E. Morris Institute for Justice, and the State Bar of Arizona with support from Legal Services Corporation. Visit www.azlawhelp.org to search for information, download court forms, and find legal agencies that serve Arizonans most in need. In Tucson, these include the Arizona Center for Disability Law; Asylum Program of Arizona; Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.; Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, Inc.; Our Family Services; Volunteer Lawyers Program – Pima County; Attorney General’s Office (Tucson); and Step Up to Justice.
AZLawHelp.org also offers almost two dozen videos in a series called “Savvy Seniors,” on everything from raising grandchildren to estate planning.
If all else fails, use a lawyer referral service. For a small fee, these services will find a lawyer for you. In Pima County, call 623-4625.
Compiled from reports by FindLaw.com, Philadelphia-based Bovarnick and Associates, Forbes, the State Bar of Arizona, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.