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How to Choose A Great Lawyer

Maybe you've been sued, or someone has harmed you and you want to sue. Maybe you've been arrested, or you know the government is investigating you or your business. Or maybe you need a divorce, a will, or a new corporation. Whatever the reason, you need a lawyer, and you need someone who is good and won't cost you a bundle. But there are so many lawyers. How do you get the right one?

As you would for any major purchase, do a little research and save yourself from costly mistakes. Narrow your search to attorneys who practice in the area in which you need services. Look at the attorneys experience and background. Ask for information about fees and payment arrangements. Interview attorneys by phone or in person to see if you would feel comfortable working with them. Here s how

What type of lawyer do you need? Just as you wouldn't go to a dermatologist for a heart ailment, you wouldn't go to a domestic relations lawyer if you had been charged with a federal crime. While not every attorney specializes in a particular type of law, most do practice in one or two specific areas. Finding an attorney who has experience with your type of legal matter not only means you are likely to get better advice, but also means you are likely to pay lower fees because you won t be paying for the attorney to learn a new area of the law. Attorneys who specialize in your area are also likely to work more quickly because they will have on hand the applicable law and form documents. If you look at the areas of practice listed on this site, you will get a good idea of typical areas of specialty.

How do you find out an attorney s specialty? You can find an attorney s specialty or area of practice in several ways. A good starting point is to look at listings at this site. You can also look in the yellow pages, read advertisements in the paper, call your local bar association or legal referral service, or look up attorneys web sites. In addition, public libraries often have listings of attorneys by geographic region and describes their practices.

Where can you get information about an attorney s background? The listings in the libraries may contain background information about the attorneys listed, including age, law school, bar admissions, papers written, law association positions held, and reported cases handled by the attorney. Similar information might also be provided by an attorney s web site. Your local bar association can tell you when an attorney was admitted to practice in your state, and confirm that the attorney is a member of the bar in your state, but usually will not give out more information. If the bar association has a referral service, the service should be able to provide you with additional information. Many attorneys have brochures about their practices that you can call and request, and they will also tell you their qualifications if you ask.

How should you interview attorneys? Once you have the names of a few attorneys who practice the type of law you need, interview them to see if you feel they would do a good job for you. Call the attorneys and explain what legal services you need, and ask for a meeting. Most attorneys will give you an "initial consultation" of fifteen or twenty minutes at no charge. Note, however, that you probably will not get specific legal advice during this initial meeting because the attorney will need to have detailed information from you before providing advice. Instead, use this time to ask the attorney about his or her background and experience, how he or she would handle your legal matter, how much he or she charges, and what fee arrangements are available. In evaluating the attorney s responses, look for a personality that you would be comfortable working with, experience handling matters similar to yours, a confident manner, and forthright answers.

Are women attorneys better? Some people look for women lawyers for a variety of reasons. They think women listen better, work harder, are more sympathetic, or are more likely to resolve matters without litigation. They may also think that a woman attorney might have a favorable impact on juries, particularly if the woman is defending a man accused of harming a woman in some way. Of course, all such thoughts are based on stereotypes and will not necessarily be true. Male attorneys can be just as hard working and sympathetic as female attorneys, and female attorneys can be just as aggressive and bull-headed as male attorneys. Your best course is to choose an attorney, male or female, with the qualifications and qualities that you think will best serve your needs.

Copyright 1999 by Cynthia Thomas Calvert. All rights reserved.