2013-06-24

I've had the (mis)fortune of having had to work with lawyers several times over the last few years, so I decided to write a short post listing out the little things that have proved valuable in working with them. This list is based entirely on personal experience and personal preferences, so take any information with a bucket full of salt.

Finding a Lawyer

There are two "good" ways to find a trustworthy, capable lawyer, assuming that the office of the lawyers that you usually use doesn't have a practice area for your legal soup de jour.

The first option is to talk to a lawyer who you have worked with in the past whose character and skills you trust, and ask for a reference. This obviously isn't foolproof, and I've had some poor experiences when my doctors have referred me to practitioners of other medical disciplines, but your batting average will likely be better than a shot in the dark or (god forbid) a stab at the Yellow Pages (do the Yellow Pages even exist anymore?).

The second option is to talk to a friend / acquaintance / business partner whose professional judgment and past use of legal advice you know and trust, and ask for a reference. Note that this shouldn't be any random friend, but someone you know to have sound sense and mileage using legal services. This should not be your dental hygienist (yes, my dental hygienist really did refer me to a lawyer. I accepted the information but went to a law office with whom my family has worked with in the past).

I'm actually not sure if asking for a referral from a friend who is a lawyer is an option that works. I have no evidence, but my instincts tell me that practicing law and knowing quality legal professionals in a different practice area are very different things. The issues are exacerbated if said friend is a relatively junior lawyer.

Compatibility

Some Lawyers are aggressive, and some are more "reasonable" in their approach. This is true whether you're dealing with a liability case, a tax law case, or anything else. There is always a range of strategies that can be pursued, and different lawyers will choose different parts of the specturm. Find one whose style fits your needs and / or your particular situational needs.

Preparation

When you call the law office and set up a consultation, ask her what materials you should bring that day. Having all the materials in front of you will make the conversation go much smoother.

You will likely have many documents, so be sure to label each with post-it notes as tabs and have a short cover letter that lists the contents of the set of documents that you have brought.

This organizing step will (a) help you refresh yourself about the scope of the case, and (b) cut down the time you'll be billed by the firm.

Refuse Their Offers to Come out to an Office Near You

Lawyers at big firms will sometimes offer to have meetings at an office closer to where you live or work, separate from their every day office. Refuse this offer and take the time to go to their regular office. Your lawyer will bill you for his travel time, and when you are paying hundreds of dollars per hour, this can really hurt your wallet.

Be Aware that Some Lawyers Have Pet Strategies and Arrangements

Each lawyer will have "pet strategies" that they like to use and suggest to their clients. Depending on your circumstance and the lawyer's inclinations, what they most strongly suggest may not be the optimal choice for you. It would be nice if we could place infinite trust in the services we hire, but the reality is that we often have to oversee the effort and make some judgment calls ourselves. This is true when hiring contractors to do work on your house, and is true when hiring lawyers.

Of course, we laymen can't hope to understand all the intricacies of certian complex legal structures or strategies, but getting high level information on the options available to you and forming your own thoughts on what might be best for your situation will be necessary to begin having a constructive conversation with your lawyer in order to figure out what is truly optimal for you. You can't depend on anyone but yourself to represent you in fighting for your best interests, even if you are paying them.

Addendum

Hopefully you're fortunate enough to never have to work with a lawyer, but keep some of these things in mind if you do. Even if you reject any or all of my suggestions (which is totally fine by me), just thinking about these issues in earest will be helpful.