How Do I Find a Lawyer?

Finding a lawyer can be difficult because so many people practice law in cities across the U.S. The process requires careful research and consultations with each potential attorney. The goal is to find a lawyer who has the expertise to handle your case and help with your problem, not just find a lawyer who offers the best rates or the most advertisements in your area.

When searching for a lawyer, the most important thing to consider is whether you feel comfortable talking to the lawyer you hire. In most legal cases, you'll share personal information and you should be very upfront and honest about all facts pertaining to your issue. If you feel uncomfortable sharing any of this information with your lawyer, he or she is not the right choice.

The next step in searching out lawyers is finding those who specialize in the area of law that relates to your issue. If you're considering a divorce or fighting for legal custody of children, don't hire a criminal lawyer or immigration attorney. An attorney who practices family law will understand the regulations and laws around marriage, divorce, and custody better than someone who hasn't looked at them since law school. Lawyers in various specialties will also keep up with changing regulations and laws through continuing education.

If you meet with a lawyer who specializes in several areas, you may want to ask for a breakdown of case types he or she handles. For example, if you're looking for a personal injury lawyer, but only 10 percent of the attorney's cases relate to personal injury, it may be better to find someone who spends more time in this area.

Friends and family members might have experience working with lawyers, so talk to them as part of your search. If you don't know anyone who has gone through a similar legal case, try searching for reviews online. Reviews offer others' personal accounts of experiences with specific attorneys. You may also learn about how the lawyer interacts with his/her clients and potential outcomes of past cases.

You can also look for newspaper or Yellow Pages advertisements, or even online ads when you're searching for attorneys in your area. Some lawyers don't advertise, aside from listing their information in the Yellow Pages. But advertising is allowed by the State Bar Association, as long as the campaigns don't contain any misleading or false information.

Make sure to bring a copy or recording of the ad to your consultation, especially if it included any information about fees or discounted rates. State law requires that any joint advertising campaigns include the names of all participating lawyers in a group.

The cost of hiring an attorney will vary drastically, but you should be able to get a ballpark estimate based on the details of your case. Some lawyers offer flat-rate pricing for straightforward cases, such as bankruptcy, divorces that don't involve children, immigration, wills and estates, and even some criminal cases.

But if flat-rate pricing isn't an option, make sure to understand the different fees associated with hiring a lawyer. These may include:

  • Consultation fee

Before scheduling an appointment to meet with a lawyer, ask the receptionist or legal secretary about any consultation fees. Some attorneys offer free consultations, but if there is a charge, ask whether it's a flat-rate cost or based on the length of time that the consultation takes.

  • Contingency fees

A lawyer who uses contingency fees only receives payment when he or she wins your case. The total of the contingency fee will also vary based on the amount of the settlement, although the average is about 25-35 percent of the total. Contingency fees are most common in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

  • Hourly fees

The hourly fee billing schedule is the most common method for lawyers. A lawyer's hourly rate will vary, although it's rare to find one who charges less than $150 per hour. Highly specialized lawyers with a lot of experience in a specific area of law might charge $300-$500 per hour.

The location also factors in, since lawyers in bigger metropolitan areas tend to charge higher hourly rates than those in rural areas or small towns.

Other factors that impact a lawyer's hourly rate include overhead costs, the firm's regulations, and the size of the staff.

  • Delivery fees

When lawyers have to deliver legal documents to you or other parties, they may use courier services that charge fees for each delivery. The client is typically responsible to pay these delivery fees.

  • Retainer fee

A retainer fee is sort of like a down payment toward the hourly rate for your case. As your attorney spends time on the case, he or she will deduct from the retainer fee and give you an itemized statement every month or few months.

A retainer fee is rarely refundable, so make sure you plan to move forward with the case and the attorney before making any payment.

  • Filing fees

When you file documents or suits with the court, you will have to pay state- or federally-regulated fees. Your lawyer should have an idea of what the filing fees will be in a specific case, so ask before you make a decision.

  • Statutory fee

Some types of issues, such as those relating to bankruptcy or probation, have court-mandated fees that clients must pay their attorneys. Courts sometimes set statutory fees, although this is rare.

  • Court costs

Similar to filing fees, there are costs associated with going to court.

  • Secretarial time

Your lawyer may offset some of the legal tasks to his or her legal secretary or paralegal. Make sure to ask whether any associated fees will be billed separately or wrapped up into the attorney's hourly or flat-rate fee.

Lawyers typically accept cash, check, and major credit cards for payment. Some offer payment plan arrangements as well. Your attorney should give you a fee agreement to sign, which will outline the expected cost and any fees, such as the hourly rate, flat rate, required retainer fee, contingency percentage, or other related costs.

Other considerations when trying to find a lawyer include convenience of the office location to your home or workplace, as well as how long he or she expects the case to take. During your initial consultation, ask the lawyer if he or she has enough time to take on your case. 

Some employers offer access to legal services for their employees, so check with your supervisor or HR manager to find out if this is an option for you. These services are often provided as part of a benefits package and may include basic legal resources, such as drafting a will or creating a power of attorney.

Why Is Finding a Lawyer Important?

Finding the right lawyer for your case can impact the outcome. An experienced lawyer in the area of your case will understand the necessary steps to improve your chances of having a favorable ruling. When working on other similar cases, a lawyer can also get a better feel for the requirements and regulations around your legal issue. Legal problems and the process of resolving them can get very complicated, so having the right legal representation will make it easier. Your lawyer can also help you understand your rights in the legal system.

Reasons to Consider Not Finding a Lawyer

One of the most common reasons that someone might not hire a lawyer is the cost. Lawyer fees are not cheap, although options like flat-rate pricing can help reduce the overall cost. But even if you can't afford a lawyer, you don't have to go into your legal proceedings without any help. In fact, the Miranda Rights give those involved in certain high-profile or high-stakes cases the right to an attorney, which will be provided by the state or federal government. You may also have the right to an appointed attorney in child custody cases in which you face losing your children.

If financial constraints limit your ability to hire a lawyer, you can also take advantage of free legal resources. Check with your local State Bar office to see if lawyers in your area offer legal representation to clients at no cost.

A lawyer might also charge more than the case is worth to you. For example, if you're considering taking legal action against a car repair shop that didn't fix a problem with your vehicle, think about the cost of the repair and whether the legal fees warrant this lawsuit. If a lawyer quotes a $5,000 fee for bankruptcy representation, but you owe $8,000 in debt, it may not make sense to hire that lawyer.

Some cases don't require you to find a lawyer. These might include simpler divorce proceedings, child custody cases that involve parents who are willing to work together, immigration, or bankruptcy. You may have the option to go through dispute resolution to resolve concerns through mediation instead of going to court. If you are taking legal action after an accident, your insurance company may represent you in court, so you wouldn't need to find your own lawyer.

Reasons to Consider Finding a Lawyer

Working with an experienced attorney comes with several benefits. You only have one chance to represent the information and win your case, so coming in with the best possible resources will help. The defendant and his/her lawyer may also change the strategy when they learn of who you choose to represent you.

If you are the victim of a crime, non-profit organizations that represent victims might be able to help you with legal resources and representation as well.

Most states also have volunteer legal organizations that offer legal services to members of certain groups, such as those trying to immigrate to the U.S., or those who are low-income. The organizations might include legal aid societies, minority bar associations, and other law groups who are willing to represent a certain type of client or a specific legal focus. More information about volunteer legal organizations is available through the State Bar Association website.

What Could Happen When You Find a Lawyer?

With the right lawyer on your side, you can go into a legal battle with confidence. Your attorney will have the knowledge, tools, and resources to put together a strong case, helping to increase your odds of having a ruling in your favor.

What Could Happen When You Don't Find a Lawyer?

If you can't find a lawyer who makes you feel comfortable and confident, it's better to keep looking than hire just anyone. A good lawyer should communicate promptly to give you the information you need. But going into certain types of cases without legal representation is difficult and complex. You could end up missing deadlines or even losing the case because you don't have the resources to come in prepared.

Common Mistakes

One mistake that you could make while trying to find a lawyer is hiring the first one you meet. Take time and meet with several lawyers in the specialty of your case so you can get a feel for different approaches and options. Cost is certainly a factor when choosing a lawyer, but don't hire the cheapest one because that's what you can afford. In legal situations, you often get what you pay for, so it may be better to save some money and hire a more experienced attorney or look into other payment arrangements.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • I found a lawyer I really like and want to hire. But will I end up working with a paralegal or another lawyer in the firm on my case?

Before hiring a lawyer or paying any fees, make sure to ask whether you will work consistently with that attorney. While paralegals and legal secretaries will typically support and assist the lawyer involved in a case, you should have one point of contact and not get passed around to different attorneys or staff members at the firm.

  • Can I hire a lawyer to represent parts of my legal case?

In some cases, limited representation is allowed at specific stages of your legal matter. Complex cases might benefit from having multiple attorneys who specialize in different areas of law. If financial constraints make it difficult to hire a lawyer, limited representation might also be a better option. Limited representation lawyers might be referred to as consulting attorneys or coaches.

Before hiring a limited representation lawyer, make sure you understand what will be included in your service. These lawyers don't take the responsibility of your case, so you're still responsible to keep up with required deadlines, documentation, and other legal tasks. Your attorney might help with negotiating, signing off on a legal document, or representing you at a specific hearing.

Another option is working with a collaborative attorney, who works with the other party and his/her lawyer to reach an agreement through a process outside of a courtroom. Collaborative attorneys generally do not offer legal services in court cases, so if you and the other party don't settle the dispute, you would have to hire a new attorney for a trial.

  • Should I work with a lawyer who seeks me out?

Some attorneys hang out at local immigration offices and courtrooms to look for potential clients to hire. You may even hear from personal injury lawyers if you've been in an accident that was reported in the local news. But lawyers who seek out clients may not be in compliance with State Bar Association regulations and ethics around solicitation. Avoid hiring an attorney who seeks you out; instead, do your own research and find a legal representative who fits with your case.

  • How much will legal fees cost when I find a lawyer?

The legal fees vary, depending on a number of factors.

  • Filing and court fees
  • Lawyer fees (hourly, flat rate, or contingency)
  • Reporter charges (for taking notes at hearings and trials)
  • Copying and faxing costs
  • Expert witness and/or consultant fees
  • Investigator fees
  • Jury fees
  • Postage, messenger, and courier fees
  • Processing fees
  • Staff time (paralegals, legal secretaries)
  • Travel expenses

Some attorneys wrap the required fees into the total cost, while others will require clients to pay as the fees come up. Talk to lawyers at the initial consultations to find out how they bill.

Steps to File

In order to secure a lawyer on your case, you will need to sign the fee agreement and pay any required fees up front, such as a retainer. Once you have decided a on a lawyer and started moving forward with the legal process, your lawyer will take over and include his or her name on all legal documentation as your representative for the case.

If you need help finding a lawyer, 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.