Selecting the right attorney to represent you could be one of the most important decisions you ever make. It’s a decision that many people make without all of the requisite knowledge, nor the guidance of a knowledgeable individual.
What does this mean for you? It means you should spend some time carefully thinking about what selection criteria you’ll need. This guide is meant to ease your burden by providing some insight into considerations you ought to have if you need to hire an attorney.
While there are many ways that you could break down this problem, I believe the most useful criteria for selecting an attorney requires a three-part analysis. I’ll explain below...
Step 1: Find a Competent Attorney
While it almost goes without saying, make sure that you are hiring a licensed attorney. There have been many people taken in by hiring people who, as it turned out, were not attorneys. Many state bars offer license lookup services so that potential clients can verify that their intended attorney is licensed. The Virginia State Bar’s license lookup service is located here: https://member.vsb.org/attsearch/search.aspx
Next, verify that the attorney practices the particular type of law you need help with. While the importance of this requirement varies with the complexity of your legal issue(s), it is something you should always consider. For instance, while any attorney is capable of helping someone draft a simple will, not every attorney is sufficiently competent to help someone with ample wealth like Bill Gates with the creation of an estate plan.
Generally speaking, an attorney will have specialized knowledge and experience in the areas of law in which they practice. Attorneys will generally list their areas of practice on their websites. You can find out more about my practice areas here on my : Contact Page.
Next, consider looking at an independent third-party rating
organization to help you judge the attorney’s reputation. One such
organization that I’d recommend checking out is AVVO. My current
rating is (it automatically updates):
These third-party organizations usually have web pages where you can
find more information about your prospective attorney.
This information may contain client reviews as well as the
endorsements of other attorneys. My reviews are here:
Additionally, there are endorsement organizations that select attorneys for you that are “the best” or “elite” or “super,” based on varying criteria. Sometimes their “criteria” is not clear, and their level of endorsement is directly correlated with whether the lawyer is willing to pay. Be careful with these organizations, since their selection criteria is usually not clearly spelled out. While I have been selected by a number of different organizations like this in the past, I think it is important to consider the credibility of the particular organization that is providing the endorsement, and weigh it along with all of the other selection criteria I’ve mentioned above. While you may find it helpful, it should not be your only criteria for hiring an attorney.
You can find some of the endorsements I have recieved on my Achievements Page.
Step 2: Find an Attorney You Trust
Once you have narrowed down your list of potential attorneys to just a few, it is a good idea to speak with each one to see how their personality aligns with your own. I don’t believe that even the most skilled attorney would be the correct choice for everyone. Just like in selecting a spouse, personality matters.
When it comes to criminal cases, I tend to begin the representation in a very cautious and reserved manner, and attempt to gather as much information as I can to find to support a defense. Once I have gathered a sufficient amount of information, I provide the client with my sincere analysis of the client’s case, along with my recommendation for a course of action. I discuss the risks of all potential courses of action with the client, and then zealously pursue the one selected by the client, while maintaining a polite decorum.
Once the case reaches trial, I fight for my client the way I would want someone to fight for me if I were in danger of being incarcerated. A trial attorney must be able to throw that switch and go from being nice and jovial to being a skeptical stickler about the evidence and the law.
While it is better to achieve your goals without a trial, that is not always possible. You need an attorney that is not afraid to try a case when your goals cannot otherwise be achieved. I have seen lots of attorneys accept a bad plea offer because they are unwilling or overly reluctant to go to trial. It is a balancing act though, because I have also seen attorneys reject good offers in favor of trials where it ultimately cost their client a worse punishment than had previously been offered, plus the added time and stress of sitting for the trial itself.
The reason I am pointing all of this out is because some clients think that a good attorney is one that is hostile to the prosecutor and to every government (prosecution) witness. There is a time to be adversarial, but that time is not while trying to negotiate a deal. A good attorney will be nice and jovial prior to trial. A bad attorney will bring unneeded stress and acrimony to an already difficult circumstance.
Step 3: Find an Attorney You Can Afford
Finding the perfect attorney is useless if you can’t afford him or her. There are three main types of attorney fee arrangements. Understanding the difference between them will help you make a wise choice.
- The first type is the flat-fee arrangement where an attorney charges the client a flat fee for a particular service, such as representation on a charge before the General District Court.
- The second type is the hourly-fee arrangement where the attorney charges the client a set hourly rate and multiplies that by the number of hours he or she spends working on the client’s case. This can get expensive since there is no set limit on the cost of the representation. An attorney that charges a low hourly rate could actually wind up costing his/her client more money than one of the other types of arrangements, especially if that attorney does not use his/her time efficiently. Being too efficient is one of the most common ways that attorneys can lose their jobs at law firms, at least according one legal recruiter: Top 32 Reasons Attorneys Lose Their Jobs Inside of Law Firms.
- The third type of fee arrangement is a contingent-fee arrangement where the client pays for results. While this may seem like the best option from a client’s perspective, it is not legally permitted in criminal cases and has a tendency to pay the attorney more than an hourly-fee arrangement.
Most clients prefer the certainty of flat-fee arrangements so they are not surprised with the final cost of their legal representation.
You need to consider not just the cost of the attorney’s fee, but also what value you could derive from the representation. This is sort of like a quality of life evaluation that only you can make. This could involve keeping your current job, maintaining a security clearance, or even preserving your ability to travel with restrictions. For example, did you know that Canada denies entry to foreigners convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI)?
Choosing the right attorney is a major life decision and should be given the consideration it deserves. I hope that this article was helpful to you in making your decision.
If you are interested in talking to me about your case, send me a message on our Contact Page.