“Everyone hates lawyers until they need one.” This quote has been around so long that I could not even source it. I think the adage has stuck because it contains some degree of truth. If so, then I suppose the best you can hope for is not to hate your lawyer. And the best way to avoiding hating your lawyer is by making sure you hire the right lawyer.
How do you hire the right lawyer? Practice, practice, practice.
Just kidding! You hire the right lawyer by asking the right questions.
I spent eight years working in corporate America before going to law school. On the rare occasions that I crossed paths with my company’s lawyers, I remember feeling out of my comfort zone. I rarely, if ever, understood the lawyer’s role, or even my role, in the legal process.
Since becoming a lawyer, I have met many folks who feel the same way. They are uncomfortable with the idea of vetting lawyers to find the right person to help them navigate their legal issue. Instead, their urge is to “rip the band aid” and hire the first lawyer they find.
I get it. I think this is how people who are unfamiliar with litigation deal with the discomfort, uncertainly, and/or insecurity they feel about the entire legal process. Of course, this approach can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, you should evaluate a potential lawyer in much the same way you would a potential business partner, an employee, or even a spouse. That means taking the time to learn about the lawyer and the legal process, and then asking the questions that will give you the information you need to make an informed decision.
If you need someone like me – a litigator – here are some of the questions I would suggest:
- Have you handled similar matters in the past? How often? How recently?
- How do you think we should approach this matter?
- What are my options for dealing with this matter?
- Are you familiar with the judges in the relevant county or district; e.g. Harris County or the Southern District of Texas?
- Have you appeared before my judge?
- Do you know the opposing counsel?
- Are you familiar with the industry at issue?
- What is your billable rate?
- Do you require a retainer?
- Do you have a sense of the fees I will incur? Can you provide an estimated budget?
Never forget that you have every right to find a lawyer who possesses the experience, temperament, and judgment that makes you feel the most comfortable. You are no more obligated to hire the first lawyer you meet than you are to hire the first job candidate who sends you a resume.
Ultimately, these questions will help you find someone you can trust. And trust may be the most important factor when you are facing an unfamiliar process.
Finally, here is maybe my most important tip. If a lawyer is offended by these questions, or refuses to give you straight answers, then you should already know to keep looking.