Hiring an attorney is a daunting task. Not because attorneys are hard to find. It is the opposite of that. Attorneys are very easy to find. Just search the term “attorney near me” and you will get an overwhelming list of choices. Law firms and solo practitioners are businesses like any other, for the most part. Everyone you go to will claim they are likely the best fit for you for one reason or another. So how do you choose? How do you know which firm is best positioned to fight for an outcome based on your goals while giving you the best probability of achieving that goal? That is what this article intends to help with. Do keep in mind that your circumstances may differ and this article is simply a guide that we, as attorneys, believe would be helpful to keep in mind when searching for representation.
Know Your Goals, but Be Ready to Pivot
It is important to know what your goal is when looking for an attorney. However, don’t simply hire an attorney because they tell you they will seek to get you that goal without discussing all your options. A diligent attorney will discuss your goals with you along with the facts of your case and give you all of your options. You may be surprised that the attorney can exceed what you originally thought possible.
The best example of this is when prospective clients come to us seeking help from our consumer protection department after being sued by a 3rd party debt collector. Many have the goal of getting their case “dismissed”. Mainly, because that is what the “the internet” told them they should set as their goal. After discussion, most of these prospective clients realize that we can often do much more than get the case dismissed, we can win it. This often leads to clients having better results than they thought possible. This was only possible, however, because these individuals were ready to shift their goals after getting legal counsel.
It is ok to not change your goal as well. Don’t take this section the wrong way. We are not saying you should always change your goal to what an attorney tells you it should be. The point is that you should not have absolute tunnel vision when searching for an attorney. This could lead to you hiring someone who just parrots back what you say to them which ends with you giving up your hard-earned money for sub-par results.
The other side of this is that your goals may be statistically improbable or outright impossible. We see this often in our criminal defense department. Sadly, there are firms who simply promise the unlikely or encourage setting a goal on the unlikely. Some solo practitioners and firms do this to sell you on the idea that they can get you better results than other firms. It isn’t until after you hire that attorney that they tell you your goals are unlikely and they need to be adjusted. This is another topic though and you can read more on it below.
Look for a Firm That Gives You Realistic Expectations, Not Just One Who Tells You What You Want to Hear.
We all want the absolute best result possible. It is human nature and it is justifiable to want that in any legal matter you may be going through. However, it is important to understand that some results, although possible, may be unrealistic. Unfortunately, there are some solo practitioners and law firms who will gladly tell you, and even sometimes promise you, that they can get that result for you because they know it is what you want to hear. These firms will manipulate you into a belief that they are a better firm because they can get better results than the others.
We believe that the better way to find a firm for you is to look for one that gives you all the probabilities. The best case and worst-case scenario along with what is likely. Remember, if it sounds to good to be true, then it probably is.
Don’t Base Your Decision Solely on Cost
Cost absolutely plays a role in the decision process, but be careful that it doesn’t play the leading role. This applies both ways. Just because one attorney is cheaper it doesn’t mean just a better price. It might mean less services, less experience or a narrower scope of representation. On the other side, a more expensive attorney doesn’t mean better. It could mean the attorney isn’t experienced enough to understand how much work a case involves and is charging too much because of that. They could also be charging based on unethical promises of specific outcomes that are unrealistic or improbable.
Price is rarely the end all, be all that some people think it is. It is often that top ‘factor’ that people use to find an attorney. We have had many prospective clients lead with the question “how much do you cost” before anything else. To believe that cost should be your only determining factor means that you also believe every attorney will get the same result, have the same scope of representation and go about it the same way. This just simply isn’t true.
Every question about cost should also have follow up questions concerning why the cost is what it is. You may be surprised to find that sometimes an attorney that cost more is actually providing far more services with a broader scope of representation that could lead to representation better aligned with your goals. Additionally, you could find that hiring the cheaper attorney may result in simply wasted money. Ask your attorney for the logic/reasoning behind the fee they are charging.
Have an Understanding of What a ‘Scope of Representation’ Is and Have the Attorney Tell You What Theirs Is
The “Scope of Representation” is a term used to mean the overall set of services that will be provided for your specific legal matter. This is the most important thing to understand and know when hiring an attorney. Not knowing what this is would be similar to buying a car without knowing anything about it except it is a car.
The reason this is important is that it heavily affects your pricing structure along with the options you may have during your representation. For example, if you are hiring an attorney for a landlord tenant matter at the magistrate and you win, what happens if the other party appeals it? Will the attorney continue to represent you or will you have to pay another fee? Or, what happens if you lose a the magistrate. Will the appeal be automatically taken with fees and costs absorbed or will you be responsible for the court fees? It is not uncommon for prospective clients to want us to ‘price match’ another firm and it turns out they are unsure about the other firm’s scope of representation. When they dig into the matter, they discover that although we might be slightly more expensive, we are offering twice the services. Additionally, we have had prospective clients discover that our scope of representation better aligned with their goals and desired risk level while another firm’s scope was far more narrower and actually cost more.
Scope of Representation is very important. Always have any attorney you are talking to carefully define their scope of representation to you. If they are unwilling, it could be a good indicator that they are not a good fit for you.
Distinguish Between Marketing Hype and Actual Qualifications
Like previously mentioned, firms are businesses who must market themselves to get business. Just like any other business. You, as a consumer, must be aware that some things are selling points that simply don’t apply to the attorney’s effectiveness or whether they are a good fit for you and your legal matter.
One of the very tired selling points we often hear is “the other attorney says they are a solo practitioner and that means he/she will be able to pay more attention to my case than a firm with multiple attorneys”. This simply isn’t true. Just because a firm has multiple attorneys or departments doesn’t mean you will get less attention as a client. You may even find the exact opposite to be true. The other one we also hear far too often is “the other firm exclusively does these cases which means they are more experienced and better suited”. Just because a firm only does one thing doesn’t inherently make them better at it. We believe that experience in the area and prior track record is a better indicator of suitability than the number of practice areas a firm has.
We believe that the best route to take when determining qualifications is to simply ask the attorney “how many of these types of cases have you handled” and “how often do you win these and what results do you typically see”. If the history of the attorney is acceptable to you, you are comfortable with the scope of representation and pricing, then it is a good chance that you have found an attorney/firm that is a good fit for you.
Hiring an attorney can be overwhelming but hopefully this article gives or helps build a strategy to approach the task. As always, you can also give us a call. We will be happy to review your case, free of charge, and answer any questions you might have about the qualifications of the attorney who will be handling your case.