Choosing a lawyer can be challenging. First, the need for a lawyer is usually infrequent, less frequent than choosing other professionals like doctors or dentists. Secondly, it is difficult for lay people to assess the technical competence of professionals like doctors or lawyers. We usually make those judgments based on their “bedside manner” and whether we feel we can trust the individual. Finally, the need for a lawyer is frequently associated with a stressful situation, and it is well known that stress and anxiety can affect the quality of our decision-making.
We provide advice on selecting an attorney in our firm brochure and in a video and will cover it in a future blog. Meanwhile, I found some very good advice written by a very experienced western Pennsylvania attorney* on what NOT to look for.
Hiring a lawyer is very personal. True, you are looking for a professional to perform a task. But in order to do it, you must establish a relationship. The relationship between a lawyer and client is like no other. It requires a high level of mutual trust, often to be established on the spot. The lawyer you select should be the best available match for you and for the task at hand.
Here is a short list of the wrong things to consider:
1. Law School Prestige. US News and World Report prepares a lot of lists, and one of them is a supposed ranking of law schools. Attendance at a high-ranking law school doesn’t guarantee that lawyer is a good match for you or the task.
2. Law Firm Prestige. You are not hiring a firm, you are hiring a lawyer. Even though their specialty may be appropriate, large firm lawyers are frequently a poor match for specific tasks. For example, their hourly rates may guaranty that the fee will exceed the value of the case. On the other hand, if your case requires a lawyer who is supported by junior lawyers and other staff, a large firm lawyer may be a good match.
3. Award Lists like Super Lawyers or Best Lawyers in America. These “awards” are usually procured by marketing people from larger firms. They make their presence known through plaques and leather bound books found in the waiting rooms of the awardees. Once again, they don’t say anything about whether the lawyer is a good match for you.
4. Internet sites that list lawyers by specialty but give very little additional information. Lawyers pay to be listed on these sites. Being mentioned on such a site doesn’t mean anything.
5. TV advertising. A television ad tells you very little about what a lawyer is like.
What should you look for? In our opinion, at least ten years experience in the field in which you require assistance. Compassion and empathy, and the ability to listen and understand your unique circumstances. Proximity, as your lawyer becomes your partner in this important, often life-altering situation, and good communications in paramount. You dont want to be driving an hour to see your attorney.
*Cliff Tuttle has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 38 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers.