Do you need one?
Most people associate the word lawyer with an individual who goes to court every day to stand before a judge or jury defending the freedom of another individual.
This is true only in rare cases; there are many different types of lawyers with a variety of responsibilities and duties.
Usually people don't have a "regular" lawyer, with whom they have contact on a frequent basis (similar to the way people see their “doctor” on an annual basis). So how to find a lawyer who's right for you and your case? Where to turn for recommendations?
Use the experience of Friends & Family
One excellent possibility to find a good lawyer is to request referrals from friends & family. Alas, relying on other people’s experience is (as always) not the silver-bullet:
- Lawyers are mostly specialized: a lawyer, who handled the personal injury case of your cousin with marvelous success, might not have the knowledge to be equally successful in a custody case or your Divorce Mediation.
- Besides expertise, the client – lawyer relationship is a critical factor. And this is the area of psychology and personal interaction. You should give your lawyer very piece of information you have, even if it is promiscuous or whether you feel ashamed. If the atmosphere prevents you from doing so, you should first ask yourself, whether you can give the information anyhow (for example in written form). If you cannot come up with a solution, regardless of whose “fault” it is, change the lawyer. Trust is essential, but also a feeling, which cannot be regulated only by thoughts.
- Do not underestimate nor overestimate the “first impression”. It is true, that people seldom forget the first encounter, but it is also true, that they revise their conclusions from the first impression. A lawyer, who seems reclusive, might let to the conclusion, that he might not be able to convince a jury. However, juries (and judges) also concentrate on the facts, and the inherent logic of arguments, and not necessarily on the social capabilities of lawyers.
- Do not hesitate to ask your boss, or the legal department of the company you are working for. Do not feel compelled to gives specific background information, just mention the discipline, and ask for a handful of names.
- The same holds true, for approaching NGO’s or similar institutions which have an interest in the area (e.g. sexual harassment, immigration, environment, etc.).
- The director (or his office) of your state or local chamber of commerce can be a good source to ask for a few names, especially if you need a business lawyers.
All of the service mentioned here, have the inherent problem, that they either have to be neutral (like the bar associations) or have their own interest (like attorney directories). This must not be a disadvantage, but keep it in mind. Especially when looking for a lawyer outside your home town, they might be helpful as a starting point.
However, not each case needs a consultation face-to-face. There are a lot of cases, which can perfectly be handled via phone calls and emails.
Many sites have a database of lawyers sorted by states (or cities) and area of expertise. They offer an easy way to connect with lawyers but require your contact details and also some brief information about the case, which of course is then also stored (for future historians). After you answered a few questions you will be contacted by a maximum of a couple of lawyers.
Radio, television, Newspaper, telephone directory, and Internet ads are not necessarily evil. However, as with all advertisement, be careful about believing everything, what you read or hear. Be aware, that the faces you see, and the voices you hear, do not necessarily belong to a person, which will finally take your case.
Of course, the local bar association has a list of lawyers located in the vicinity. However, these associations must be impartial, and cannot give preferential treatment to certain lawyers (even if they are exceptionally good).