It’s fall, and many of us have just given our yearly recitation of thanks. For my part, I am thankful for a great number of things, not the least of which being my colleagues, family and friends who have supported the firm during this inception year. It is an honor to be an attorney, and to have the privilege to provide counsel to my clients.
Over the last few months I have had a number of meetings with individuals seeking counsel. I also know that I am one of a great many attorneys in Texas. (According to the American Bar Association, there are 80,657 active attorneys in Texas.) As I speak with potential clients, I’m struck with how daunting the process of selecting a lawyer seems. And, I fear unfortunately, that most people I speak with don’t shop around much. Because of my previous work experience, I’ve had the privilege of assisting in the selection of outside counsel for various projects. Based in part on this experience, below are my tips on selecting counsel.
No enemy is worse than bad advice. ~ Sophocles
Make an Attorney-Friend
As an attorney I often get asked advice in fields entirely unrelated to my own – which is great! I don’t practice in all areas of the law, but I make a concerted effort to be familiar with attorneys that do. Why? The legal industry is driven by reputation and referrals. It’s a fundamental part of my business to build relationships with trustworthy colleagues to whom I can refer clients needing assistance in areas outside my practice. In turn, these relationships also become sources of referral business for me. However, on a more basic level, we gossip! Shady lawyers who mistreat their clients become known amongst their peers. While we may extend professional courtesy and avoid badmouthing them in front of potential clients (e.g. you) attorney-sourced recommendations will help you steer clear of unsavory lawyers.
Get to Know the Options
Many attorneys will take the initial client meeting or provide phone consultations at no cost. Many times, lawyers will avoid giving you much specific guidance on your situation. However, don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Initial (un-billed) meetings are perfect for discovering about your attorney/firm and establishing the terms of your engagement. If you can get multiple recommendations (and I suggest that you do) try to meet with each of them on a no-fee or reduced-fee basis so that you can make an informed decision between viable alternatives. As Sophocles said, “no enemy is worse than bad advice.”
Understand the Firm
In getting to know your options, it’s important to have a firm grasp of the firm fundamentals. After the initial meeting is done, you should know the following:
- The name of the partner/principal for your matter
- The name(s) and roles of any junior attorney(s) for your matter
- The name(s) and roles of any paralegals or other support staff that may communicate with you
- The likelihood that these individuals may change and how that will be communicated to you
- The nature of the firm’s other work
- The firms general preference for resolving your type of matter and the immediate next steps
- How the firm will communicate (phone calls, email, mail) and how often (monthly updates or just as needed)
Talk About Price
Please, ask about price. It isn’t rude, and the conversation must go there eventually. Hourly rates between attorneys can vary significantly, and you must balance the higher price of a more experienced lawyer with the additional time it might take a more junior lawyer. It may not be a straightforward analysis, but here is what you should consider:
- What is the hourly rate for your attorney(s)?
- Do they bill paralegal/secretary time, and if so, what is the rate?
- What is the estimated time required for completion of the matter?
- Will they provide a “not to exceed” guarantee?
- Will they flat-rate any of their services?
- Do they have a payment plan?
- Do they accept credit cards?
- What is the retainer (if any) and how/will it be replenished?
Hopefully you will be able to talk to more than one attorney about your matter before you decide on who to retain as your counsel. By asking the same questions regarding pricing to both, you will be better prepared to directly compare anticipated costs.
Attorneys have track records and thanks to the internet you can discover them. Google any attorney or firm you are considering and select the “news” filter. Most times firms will include the positive news coverage they receive This will enable you to discover the bad. In addition, you should consult the state bar page for any state in which they are licensed to determine if they have disciplinary action cited against them. You can search the Texas State Bar attorney listings, which display disciplinary actions, here.