Life is full of decisions. Some are easy, like what to have for dinner or what outfit to where today. Some are challenging, like picking the right school for your kid, or deciding who to marry. Somewhere in between these two extreme lies the process of hiring a professional.
Whether its hiring a doctor, a real estate agent, or an accountant, we have all been through this process at least once in our lives, and hiring a lawyer is no different. The first step is to decide what type of lawyer you need. More likely than not, the attorney your uncle used for his divorce is not going to handle real estate closings. Likewise, the real estate closing attorney is probably not going to handle a criminal or tax matter.
Once you decide on the practice area, the second step is to get recommendations. You may want to ask friends and family, people in the industry, or you can research providers yourself on the internet.
Once you have some names, how do you narrow down who is right for you. Some people assume all lawyers are the same and try to find the cheapest possible. Others look for the most expensive, thinking they must be good if they can charge that much. There are very few times where either approach works, so I would avoid both.
Better factors you might consider are: (1) does the attorney have a reputation for providing quality legal work; (2) is that reputation for providing quality work in the relevant practice area; (3) will we be able to communicate our ideas effectively; and (4) is there a reasonable expectation of the process, the cost and the outcome?
In asking if the attorney has a reputation for providing quality legal work, you can ask about some of their successes. Have they handled a number of cases or transactions successfully, and how many years have they been doing this type of work?
Communication between the attorney and the client is extremely important. We all have friends we personally get along great with, but who for whatever reason cannot get along with each other. This is true with attorneys and clients too. The attorney may be the best in the industry, and you may be a great potential client, but if your personalities clash, then the channels of communications will suffer and so possibly will the outcome.
This is equally true when it comes to expectations. Do you expect your attorney to take the other side behind the woodshed, when the better solution might be to extend an olive branch? Alternatively, do you want a peaceful resolution, but your attorney prefers to send a message in the courtroom. It is very important to make sure there is a reasonable understanding in advance of the process and the desired outcome.
Finally, make sure you and your attorney are on the same page when it comes to costs. Many times the attorney can give you a range or budget, where you can decide at certain points whether to continue to the next step, or pull the plug. This is most relevant in litigation or complex negotiations, but a lawyer should be able to come up with some guidance when asked. Likewise, when you come to an attorney with a legal need, you should have a budget for legal services in mind.
Once you have answered these four questions, you will hopefully have found a strong ally to help you accomplish your goals.
Chris Staubes, Esquire is the owner of the Chris Staubes, Esquire
Chris Staubes is a certified mediator, and has over two decades of experience assisting businesses and business owners with their legal needs. Chris is the President of the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce, and represents Mount Pleasant on the Charleston County School Board.