Special Guest Author Lori T. Williams: Tips for Finding the Right Attorney
Most of us know when we need to consult with an attorney, but knowing who to contact can be a challenge. How do you find out what their area of specialty is? Or what kind of fees they charge? What do their clients say about them?
While the internet has certainly made finding an attorney easier for the public, knowing which lawyer is right for you still remains a mystery for many consumers of legal services. For the last 8 years, I’ve provided a free legal referral service which connects the right client with the right lawyer in each area of law throughout Metro Detroit. I take into account the lawyer’s years of experience, area of legal expertise, personality, and the client’s budget. However, for those located outside Michigan, or those who wish to use their own efforts to find legal counsel, here are a few tips for finding the right attorney for your situation.
1) Buyer Beware:
Get two or three referrals of attorneys from people you respect, such as your financial advisor, accountant, banker, or a successful business associate you know and trust. Then interview the attorneys by phone briefly and set up an office consultation with the ones you feel comfortable with. Some attorneys offer an initial phone or office consultation at no charge. Ask about this ahead of time so you are prepared for any fees at the time of the interview.
If you find an attorney through an internet search, or if you have any questions at all about this person’s qualifications, check to see if they are a member in good standing with the State Bar of Michigan, or other state in which you are seeking their services. Every state has a Bar Association and you can call directory assistance to find this number. The State Bar of Michigan office is: 1-800-968-1442. Ask for the legal referral service when you call. If you know an attorney’s name and want to check if they are in good standing, you can search for them by name at http://www.michbar.org/.
Whether you find the attorney through a referral or the internet, always determine their area of specialty to be sure they are knowledgeable about the field of law in question. (i.e. Elder Law, Family Law, Probate/Estates/Wills and Trusts, etc.) Utilizing Your Legal Resource can help you save time and money screening lawyers. We only recommend reputable attorneys with the expertise needed to handle your specific legal matter. With the challenging economy the last few years, some attorneys have taken on additional areas of practice so they can stay in business. While they may be a seasoned attorney, they may still be fairly new to the area of law you are inquiring about if they recently decided to add those services into their practice.
2) Get Clear about the Fees in Advance:
Before hiring your attorney and having them begin rendering services, ask about their billing practices. Do they bill on an hourly, flat fee, or contingent fee basis? If hourly, do they bill in tenths of an hour or other increments? What is their hourly rate? Is a retainer required up front, and if so, how much? It’s best for your protection and theirs if your attorney/client fee agreement is in writing and signed by the attorney and the client, so there are no misunderstandings. Address any concerns or questions about billing issues immediately so you don’t waive any rights.
In Metro Detroit, as in most major cities, there are thousands of good attorneys to choose from. You can usually find one in your price range. Solo and small firm law practices often provide the affordability needed for personal legal services and legal matters for the small business owner. Mid and Large size firms are better equipped to handle complex litigation or sophisticated business transactions. You can also find attorneys who formerly practiced in mid size and large law firms, who now have their own practice. They may have the knowledge you need, without the big firm overhead and cost to you. There are also “boutique” law firms with just a few attorneys offering specialized knowledge in areas of law such as Intellectual Property, Malpractice, Complex litigation, etc. “Boutique” usually implies one area of focus for the firm, and is usually a firm with less than 10 attorneys. This is in contrast to a general practice where one or more lawyers may handle a wide variety of legal issues for his or her client.
3) Clear and open communication is imperative:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your attorney. You hired this expert to assist you, and if you don’t understand him or her and don’t know your rights, then they aren’t properly assisting you. If you have any disputes or questions about the way your case is being handled, address it immediately. Most attorneys are happy to work with their clients and would rather you be open and honest with them if you perceive any problems. Your Legal Resource acts as a liaison between the client and the attorney we connect you with, and we can be used as a sounding board or second opinion when needed.
One of the most common reasons attorneys have grievances filed against them is because of poor or no communication with the client. Another reason is neglect of the client file. If your lawyer isn’t communicating with you at all, and isn’t showing up in court or otherwise handling your case, it is time to change counsel.
Before things completely deteriorate, you can take action to help keep it on track. One way to do that is to find out what the attorney’s style of communication is. Do they return all calls and emails within 24 hours? Who handles their messages when they are tied up in Court or away from the office? How long does it usually take to schedule a meeting with your attorney? Knowing these things in advance can help alleviate any anxiety on your part when you need to meet with or speak with your attorney. Chances are, they aren’t ignoring you, they are just tied up with other matters.
If you find your telephone calls aren’t being returned within 24-48 hours, try another method of communication. Speak with the legal assistant or someone else in the office, so you can communicate the nature of the matter and obtain some type of response. It may not be necessary to speak with your attorney for every question you have. For attorneys who respond better to email than phone calls, send the attorney an email stating your particular question or concern, and ask for a response by phone or email within the next 24 hours.
For matters that require more time and attention, send your attorney a letter and ask for a response within 10 days addressing your concern. If you don’t get a response, you might want to consult with another attorney so that you don’t jeopardize the status of your case, especially if it involves litigation where time is of the essence.
If the matter is serious enough to require that you change attorneys, the new attorney can send an order of substitution of counsel to the prior attorney relieving him/her of his/her duties as your attorney. You may still have existing fees due to the first attorney and you should take care of those fees. You are still bound by the attorney/client fee agreement you signed. However, your file in the first attorney’s office is considered your property and you have the right to have it copied by your first attorney and given to you. Then you can make it available to the next attorney.
In extreme cases, grievances or malpractice actions may be warranted. Your local bar association or State Bar Association can provide the contact numbers of the grievance commission in your area or refer you to malpractice attorneys. Click here for the Attorney Grievance Commission of Michigan.
For More Information about selecting attorneys, or for a referral to an attorney for your specific case, contact attorney Lori T. Williams, Your Legal Resource, at: 248-594-4470, or visit her website.
Lori T. Williams is a 23 year attorney based in Birmingham, MI. She owns a legal referral and legal consulting business called Your Legal Resource, PLLC. She assists individuals and small businesses in need of legal advice or representation by connecting them with the right legal specialist for their situation. She also provides consulting services for attorneys and other professional service providers on how to generate more business through effective branding, marketing, networking, and by creating strategic partnerships. For more information, visit www.bestlegalresource.com.