How to Find a Good Lawyer

How to find a good lawyer can be a pivotal safeguard in ensuring legal issues don’t spiral into legal problems. If you are engaged in virtually any type of business activity, whether doing so as an incorporated entity or as an independent professional, be proactive and anticipate the reality that sooner or later, legal matters and litigation may arise. You should already have a good legal advocate on your speed dial because, when a crisis strikes, that’s a bad time to be wasting valuable resources finding a good lawyer.

Most attorneys are specialists in different realms of law. Some specialize in criminal law, some in land-use law, some in various aspects of business law. There are lawyers who exclusively deal with environmental regulations, probate law, divorce law, and patent law. There are as many legal specialties as there are laws. So, first make sure you know what type of attorney will best serve your legal needs.

Where Should I Start to Look for a Lawyer?

Begin your search at your State Bar Association’s website. Search for attorneys who are practitioners in the specific realm of law that you need help in. Zero in on any who may be experts in the subcategory that most closely represents your issue. Conduct preliminary internet searches on each of the potential candidates by ensuring they are in good standing with the state Bar and by reading into any contact they may have had in the media, just to get an idea of what he or she may be like.

Also, ask around. Get references from friends and associates. While every legal issue is different and there is no one-size-fits-all attorney for everyone all the time, a lawyer with a track record of success, as well as the respect of local court officials and colleagues, could be a powerful advocate in mitigating your legal issue.

Business Referrals 

As with personal references, it could prove beneficial to query other businesses or independent professionals, particularly those in the same field as you, about advice on finding a good attorney best suited to remedy your legal issues or, better yet, a lawyer who could anticipate potential problems and deal with them before they arise.

You could also solicit input from businesses that your company works with, such as accountants, realtors, insurance agencies, and your banking contacts. They may not know the specifics of your issues, but chances are they know who the best and most active attorneys and law firms are and can, at least, point you in the right direction.

Are Advertisements A Good Place To Look For A Lawyer?

Attorneys and law firms in the United States were not legally permitted to advertise their services until 40 years ago. The 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona gave lawyers the right to advertise like any other professional, although each state Bar Association places ethics restrictions on how members in their state should advertise.

Ironically, among attorney groups that lobbied against allowing legal advertising were those representing personal injury lawyers, the same specialists who now aggressively advertise their services on television and roadside billboards.

Advertisements offer some benefit to those seeking legal help. Newspaper, phone listing, radio, TV, and website advertisements, including on Facebook and other social media, together with junk mail, could make you aware of the names of legal professionals who are soliciting business and would likely be responsive if you reach out to them.

But, overall, don’t trust advertisements because, as many attorneys will tell you, lawyers who do the most advertising need the most clients, and why is that? The bottom line is the most discerning and effective attorneys rarely advertise because they don’t have to. The best attorneys provide legal services to constituencies that aren’t Google-searching or scanning the yellow pages for help in a legal crisis because, by already consulting or hiring an attorney, they don’t get embroiled in legal crises in the first place.

Legal Group Plans

An emerging option for small businesses and independent professions is what is called “Legal Group Plans,” a sort of “legal insurance” that is increasingly being offered by some franchise distributors, labor and credit unions, professional associations, and trade groups. California, for instance, has a well-established Group Legal Services Insurance Plan.

These plans, like health insurance, lower costs when a large number of businesses and individuals opt into the service, paying relatively small amounts of out-of-pocket contributions on a regular basis for access to free or subsidized legal services that include consultations, preparing standard legal documents, and litigation representation if necessary. They operate in a similar fashion as medical insurance plans, which means your contributions are pooled into a fund that everyone can tap into when necessary. 

There are also legal assistance programs that offer prorated or even free legal services to those in need. They can generally be found in the phone book listed under “legal advice,” “legal aid,” or “legal clinics.” These subsidized legal services generally come with specific requirements for eligibility, often based on residency, income, and the nature of the legal issue.

Online Services

Websites, such as UpCounsel.com, can provide information and access to local law firms and individual attorneys, as well as specialists on a state and national scale. Depending on where you live or do business and what kind of legal issue you are concerned with, these online directories can be gateways in presenting your questions to multiple attorneys which, in turn, could lead to further engagement either via an email reply, a phone call, or by making an appointment for an in-office consultation.

UpCounsel’s Directory

Upcounsel.com provides a comprehensive directory of attorneys who are practitioners in distinct fields of business law, including such specialties as small business law in specific states and a local patent lawyer who is recognized by the United States Patent & Trade Office to represent prospective inventors. 

The directory features profiles on individual attorneys that outline his or her experience and education backgrounds as well as a general outline of fees. UpCounsel has verified that any attorney listed on its site has been endorsed by their state Bar associations with a “Good Standing” rating.

Identify Needs and Do Research

If you are employed by a company represented by a law firm or one that has an in-house attorney, it is certainly a good idea to query these legal advisers about their proficiencies in whatever issue you are concerned with. Keep in mind that they may not have these skills, so don’t settle for a general practitioner in corporate, business, or labor laws because he or she is someone you may be familiar with and deal with on a range of other matters.

Preliminary Consultation Questions & Answers

After researching potential candidates to handle your case, hopefully you will have a listing of about four or five that are qualified. Call their offices. If they are taking new clients, make an appointment for an interview.

The standard advice in hiring any attorney is to view them the same as you would evaluate surgeons before an operation on a child or loved one. Your case is your baby, so to speak, and your attorney is going to be paid a lot of money to deliver it, or deliver you from it. Ensure as best you can that the prospective attorney has a good track record and has not been accused of failing to practice due diligence on behalf of clients.

Just remember that an attorney is like any other professional or trades practitioner that you hire to perform a service for you. Essentially, this is a job interview for them. For you, a preliminary interview or consultation is the real test of whether you have a case or someone else has a case against you.

If the attorney believes your allegations have enough merit to investigate, that in itself is a validation that you have a case. On the other hand, If the attorney determines that you or your business may, indeed, be in trouble with the government or a litigant, heed his or her advice and either hire them or quickly hire another lawyer.

If you don’t like what you hear from one attorney, try another. Always get at least a second opinion. If a lawyer declines to accept your case or you as a client, keep trying until one does. There are many reasons why an attorney will decline a case that have nothing to do with the validity of the claims or the nature of the client.

When coming to a preliminary consultation with an attorney, ensure you have all the relevant information regarding your prospective case so he or she can ask all the right questions about the legal issue you are concerned with.

You should also come prepared with a list of questions to ask the attorney. Among them: How many cases like yours have they handled? How long will it take to get the issue resolved? How, exactly, will the legal process start and what is next?

Ask how they will bill you. By the hour? By the job? It is important to clarify up front how billing works should the process appear to be a time-consuming affair or should circumstances change, requiring more time than initially envisioned.

Leave your initial interviews with each attorney with a preliminary bid on how much they will charge and how much they will do. Ensure they explain the boundaries of your prospective relationship and outline what the expectations for success are.

Solicit Referrals From Former Clients

Among the best ways to hire a good lawyer to represent you is to ask for a list of former clients before leaving your preliminary consultation. After all, there is no better referral than an endorsement for a former client.

Independent Attorney vs. Large Firm

There are benefits to working with an independent practitioner who, generally, views you and your case as a primary focus at reasonable fees. They tend to be more accessible and adaptable to changing circumstances. To many, representing clients is a personal commitment because, literally, their success is dependent on their clients’ success.

A large law firm also offers many benefits, namely its resources and stable of on-site expertise in a wide range of specialties. While a full-service law firm has more heft, they can be very expensive. And, as some independent patent lawyers will warn, there is a good chance you and your case will not be handled by a veteran attorney but by a new-hire learning the ropes.

You Are the Expert

Attorneys may be experts in their realm of law, but you are the expert in your business, and it is your vision that is driving the entire engagement. If an attorney has agreed to work for you, he or she has “signed on” as believers in you, your business, and in resolving the legal issue you have been confronted with.

So, it is important to understand that lawyers can only do their job if you do yours. They are only as good as the information you provide them. Make sure they understand your case and your business and ensure that you read, and understand, everything they have documented on your behalf.

Just as your attorney is obligated to become an expert in your business, it would benefit you to learn as much as possible about the case itself and all the applicable laws and regulations that are involved. By self-educating yourself on the process, you can ask your attorney the right questions, which can save him or her time, and you money.

If you need help determining how to proceed in finding an attorney or submitting a patent application, you can post your legal needs on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.