Enlisting the services of an attorney is serious business – you’re not doing it just for kicks. It can be hard to know where to start, so to interview potential lawyers with confidence, use our handy checklist for must-have qualities.
Experience: the right kind
As the chief legal officer for Florida Peninsula, a large, Florida-based property insurance company, Stacey Giulianti hires dozens of attorneys every month and knows how important it is that attorneys have the appropriate experience. As he says, “You wouldn’t go to a foot doctor for a heart problem; treat lawyer selection the same way.”
Cost: not necessarily the cheapest
An attorney that meets your specialized experience requirement will ultimately save you time and money, too. “Understand that the cost is the least important factor in selecting an attorney,” says Giulianti. “An efficient, well-versed lawyer that knows the area in dispute will save you money even if their hourly rate is more expensive – a ‘cheaper,’ inexperienced lawyer is no bargain.”
Location, location, location
“Find out if your attorney regularly practices in your jurisdiction,” says Erin Gerstenzang of EHG Law Firm in Atlanta, who lectures around the country on legal ethics. “You may be speaking with a qualified attorney, but if she does not practice in your jurisdiction, she may not be able to fight for you as well an attorney familiar with that venue could.”
An attorney must be a good communicator on various levels – speaking, writing, and listening – as these skills are essential for successful dealings with judges and juries. “The number one complaint… is that the attorney did not communicate well enough with the client,” says Adam T. Funk, an attorney with Potts Law Firm in Houston.
Expect timely updates regarding your case. Giulianti says, “Make sure the attorney understands upfront that you expect a high level of contact, and then demand adherence.”
Attorney Neil Tyra of the Tyra Law Firm says, “You need an attorney who will gain an understanding of your unique needs and goals – because every client is unique.” And the attorney gains that understanding by listening closely to the client.
Don’t rely solely on word of mouth or recommendations from friends and family. “Doing your homework means looking for a lawyer who is board-certified in his/her field of legal specialization,” says Dean Tong, a certified forensic consultant and child abuse expert.
“Your attorney should have 4- or 5-star [customer] review ratings at Avvo,” he adds. “Most attorneys don’t have resumes or CVs, but many do have flashy state-of-the-art web sites. Don’t be swayed by flashy propaganda.” Inspect their Avvo profile beyond the reviews to find information on the lawyer’s education and disciplinary records.
“The consequences of the decisions you make may affect you, your future, and your family,” Gerstenzang cautions. “If you do not trust that your attorney will always protect your best interests, then you do not have the right attorney.”