HIRING A LAWYER – The 10 Best Questions to Ask
Too often I get calls from potential clients that are unhappy with their existing attorney. Despite being different people with different cases, the complaints I hear seem to focus around the same basic concerns:
- The lawyer fails to communicate;
- The attorney isn’t working their case diligently;
- The lawyer lacks the skills necessary to handle their matter.
While these complaints are legitimate, they are often completely foreseeable and avoidable. The bottom line is that no one likes hiring a lawyer but unfortunately, sometimes it’s necessary. By considering theses 10 questions before hiring a lawyer, you can be sure that you hire the right lawyer for your case and that you avoid being stuck in criminal litigation with an inexperienced or inferior attorney .
1.How long has the attorney been practicing law?
Perfecting a skill comes after repetition and dedication. If the attorney, you plan to hire has not been practicing an adequate number of years he or she may lack the expertise necessary to properly handle your case.
PUT SIMPLY: Would you want a doctor preforming surgery for the first time? Or would you prefer your surgeon be a doctor that had performed the surgery thousands of times?
2. Are you hiring a lawyer with disciplinary history from the State Bar?
Lawyers are regulated by individual State Bar Associations. Arizona’s Bar makes certain disciplinary actions public record. By searching the State Bar attorney listings, you can see if an attorney has been disciplined for unethical behavior before making a hiring decision. Before hiring a lawyer, ensure that the attorney you are thinking of hiring hasn’t neglected their clients, lied to judicial officers or stolen money from consumers is of the utmost importance. You can search attorney listings and any associated disciplinary findings here.
3. Does the attorney centralize their practice around the area of law that you need?
In a legal community as large as Phoenix, most attorneys specialize their practice to only one area of law in order to hone their skills. When an attorney practices in multiple disciplines it leaves open the potential of doing many things ok but none well. When you’re charged with a crime you cannot risk having an attorney that isn’t 100% prepared for every nuance of the criminal justice system. Make sure that your attorney practices only criminal law and doesn’t also work in family law, personal injuries or other ares in addition to criminal law.
4. Is the person you are talking to during the initial consultation even a lawyer? If they are a lawyer, will they be the lawyer handling your case?
Some law firms employ sales agent who are non-attorneys to conduct the initial consultation. While these individuals may have compelling sales strategies for earning your business, because they do not actually practice law much of their advice is meant to drive sales rather than inform perspective clients. Ensuring that you are meeting with a licensed attorney is paramount to a productive consultation.
Just as some law firms employ non-lawyer sales associates to consult with potential clients, many other law firms employ full-time attorneys to act as the sales arm of the intake process. While these attorneys are often experienced and knowledgeable, their litigation skills often fade as they spend time selling legal services rather than dedicating time in the courtroom. If you’re hiring a lawyer, ask the attorney handling the intake if they be the lawyer handling your case or if you case will be delegated to a less experienced lawyer.
5. Are you hiring a lawyer that will be available to answer questions and address concerns throughout representation?
Some lawyers will give clients access to their personal cell phones and make themselves available via email and text at nights and on weekends. Other attorneys channel all communication through support staff. Before hiring a lawyer, ask the attorney how they anticipate handling client contact in an effort to manage expectations.
6. Does the attorney have experience working with your specific judge and prosecutor?
While many attorneys may focus their individual practices towards criminal law, repeated exposure to specific courts will add tremendous value as the attorney will be able to utilize their exposure to a judge’s proclivities in order to predict future outcomes. If you’re thinking about hiring a lawyer, be sure they have experience with the court and judge that will be handling your case.
Just as knowing a judge’s tendencies can offer predictability in motion practice and sentencing, knowing the opposing counsel’s strengths and weaknesses can lead to tremendous strategic advantages. Ensuring that the attorney you hire has experience with your specific prosecutor and the individual prosecuting agencies offers unique leverage.
7. What do online reviews say about the attorney and/or law firm?
While online reviews should be viewed with some degree of skepticism, comments or concerns from previous clients can alert potential clients to problems before they arise. Google Reviews, Avvo.com and Yelp offer potential clients the ability to read about the experiences of the attorney’s past clients which can provide invaluable insights concerning client communication, bedside manner and case outcomes.
8. Does hiring a lawyer match your budget?
Most criminal attorneys work on flat fee with some form of a payment plan. Flat fee means that the client pays a one-time fee for the entirety of the case with no need to refill the retainer account at any point in representation. While the flat fee allows the client the ability to forecast litigation expenses, when payments are missed the attorney will generally withdraw. The last thing a client wants to do is get into a payment plan with an attorney if they cannot afford the payments as outlined by the contract. When this happens, the attorney will withdraw from the case as the case approaches trial and the client needs the attorney most.
9. What accounts for the range in prices from one law firm to another?
While many external factors often contribute to the overall cost of representation, legal fees are normally a byproduct of the cost of the lawyer’s time multiplied by the time that the attorney anticipates will need to be spent on representation. It is often said that when legal fees are exceptionally low it means:
- The lawyer’s time is not worth anything; or
- The lawyer is not intending to spend the necessary time on your case.
Before hiring a lawyer, make sure you understand the costs associated with the lawyer and what you expect to receive for the feee you are paying.
10. Are there any hidden costs?
Any lawyer worth hiring should have their fees clearly outlined in a fee agreement and should be upfront about their fees during initial discussions. Travel time, copies and nominal costs associated with the investigation should be included in your fee. Costs that are not normally included with standard attorney’s fees include: expert witnesses fees, private investigators, out-of-state or county travel and the cost of trial. Be sure that any attorney you speak to clearly addresses what costs are included in the flat fee representation and which costs are not.
SIDE NOTE: Some criminal defense attorneys include the cost of trial in their flat fee, however, some do not. Be sure to inquire if the cost of trial is included in the flat fee and if it, then what the cost of trial is. At Feldman & Royle, we normally bifurcate our trial fee so that you only pay the fee if the case in fact proceeds to trial.
If you have doubts on concerns about any of the answers a lawyer has provided you to the 10 questions above — don’t hire them. At Feldman & Royle, we pride ourselves on a low volume practice centered on the needs of our individual clients. Our dedication to defending those charged with various crimes, mixed with our countless years of experience is what truly sets us apart. To discuss hiring a lawyer or questions about your specific case, feel free to text call or email us.