Viewpoint: Be judicious when picking your lawyer
I have previously written about the work that attorneys do to help their clients. But how do you go about deciding which attorney to hire? Is the attorney who advertises on TV or has a flashy billboard the best? Or should you just pick one from the phone book and hope it works out?
Lawyers vary greatly in their expertise, experience, abilities, and costs. Like everyone else, they also have widely ranging personalities and habits. Some lawyers focus on quietly reaching agreements to settle cases. Others have more of a "take no prisoners" approach. As lawsuits frequently involve a lot of emotion, stress, and money it is important to find a lawyer that you are comfortable with.
It is also a good idea to find an attorney who is familiar with the court system in the area where the case is pending. A lawyer in Koochiching County will likely know more about the processes and people who run that courthouse than would a lawyer from Stillwater. Similarly, lawyers here know more about our processes than lawyers from Pipestone County.
Local lawyers get to know the judges and how they tend to handle cases. Some judges conduct court very formally while others are more relaxed. Over time lawyers learn which arguments specific judges find more persuasive and how they like to have cases presented. They also know who to contact in the clerk's office to most efficiently schedule cases. It is for this reason that before appearing in an unfamiliar courthouse good lawyers will often call local attorneys to find out this type of information.
Many lawyers offer free initial consultations. This provides an ideal chance to obtain information about your case and the lawyer. Use the meeting to interview the lawyer. Ask questions such as how many cases like yours has the attorney handled and if they are a regular part of their practice. How did those cases turn out? Will the lawyer bill on an hourly basis or use some other method? The lawyer won't be bashful about sending out a bill, so don't be bashful about asking these questions.
Just like choosing a mechanic or a plumber, a trusted friend or family member can probably provide the most objective information about the lawyer that you are considering hiring. What was their experience? Was the attorney professional, fair, punctual, and reasonably priced? Also, did the lawyer achieve a reasonable result?
There are also lawyer ratings services available online. These allow people to search for lawyers by name, geographic area, or type of case. Some services include ratings for the lawyers. If you use an online rating service, please take the time to understand what the ratings mean and only use the ratings in conjunction with other work you do to decide which lawyer to hire.
You will likely spend a lot of time, energy, emotion and money with your lawyer; take the time in advance to make sure that the attorney you hire is a good fit for you.
Galler is a 10th District Court judge chambered in Stillwater