How do you choose the best lawyer for your case?
You probably would not hire your dermatologist to perform brain surgery, and you should not hire a probate lawyer or a tax lawyer to handle a serious injury case. Every lawyer licensed in your state is technically qualified to practice law and even go to court, but lawyers specialize, just like doctors. Some have developed those specialties through experience and others have earned credentials similar to Board certification for doctors. A tax lawyer or estates and trusts lawyer may have earned the AEP designation (Accredited Estate Planner), an LLM (Master of Laws) in those fields of law. Personal injury lawyers can be certified as Civil Trial Specialists by the National Board of Trial Advocacy after demonstrating extensive trial experience and by passing a rigorous examination. Super Lawyers, a division of Thomson Reuters (publishers of Westlaw) rates attorneys based on experience and recognition of expertise within a particular area of practice, such as Personal Injury – Plaintiff. If your legal problem is any more involved than drafting a power of attorney or a deed or a simple will, you should try to find an attorney who specializes in the particular area of law at issue.
These guidelines apply to finding the best lawyer for your personal injury case, as well as for a divorce, a criminal case, estate planning, or bankruptcy:
- Start by learning about your legal problem. Search the internet, and read some articles, so you can begin to understand the issues and what kind of lawyer you really need.
- Depending on the situation, ask family, friends or a trusted professional for the names of some attorneys who you might want to contact. Good attorneys will usually have a good reputation.
- Use a genuine peer reviewed or client reviewed directory, such as Lawyers.com, Findlaw, Avvo or Super Lawyers to identify lawyers who have the necessary experience and credentials to handle your case or legal problem. Such resources provide unbiased ratings from other lawyers and from clients who have used their services.
- Warning: The internet is full of lawyer referral services which are nothing but paid advertising, with no assurance of experience or credentials. Be careful and check out the source.
- See if your local bar association has a referral service. For example, the Chattanooga Bar Association has an online listing of lawyers and their practice areas at www.chattanoogalaw.org/www.
- State wide professional associations typically provide a directory of members and often list the specific areas of practice they handle.
Narrow Your List
Once you’ve narrowed the list down to several names, use the following checklist to screen them:
At this point, you should have a “short list” of two or three names. Contact the attorney and schedule a consultation. Lawyers will often provide a free or low cost initial consultation to your situation, determine whether he or she can help and to give you an opportunity to ask some questions.