Many times, people don’t come see me when they should have. Then they find themselves having messed up with their DIY legal solutions provided by Google, J.D. and then they have to pay me a good bit more than they would have to fix it than if they had come to me in the first place. This column spends a lot of time talking about these situations.
This time, I’d like to talk about times when people come to me and they shouldn’t. Not necessarily because they don’t need legal advice, but because they aren’t even in the ballpark when it comes to choosing a lawyer. How can you know if this is the case? It isn’t like you can look up a specialist on your insurance company’s website like you can with doctors.
The first step would be to ask family and friends who have had similar issues for a referral. It’s not enough that they have a lawyer they like. Just like you wouldn’t go to your friend’s awesome dermatologist to get brain surgery, a lawyer who is great in one area might not know much about another.
So if you don’t have a friend who knows someone who is targeted, or if you don’t want to air your business to your friends, you can do a simple internet search. You can just google something like “divorce lawyer” or “DUI lawyer” near me, or you can go to a state or local bar association’s website and go to their attorney search function. The Georgia Bar’s website is https://www.gabar.org.
Once you’ve got a name, check the lawyer’s website. I’ve never seen a lawyer’s website that doesn’t list their practice areas and experience. Sometimes, however, that really doesn’t tell you much, especially if you’re not familiar with Legalese. You might not know what “domestic relations” or “probate” consists of. A phrase like “civil litigation” might not be clear. Additionally, many cases overlap different areas of the law. Some divorces have an immigration or real estate component. Some probate work involves a knowledge of taxes. And so on.
If you aren’t sure if this is the lawyer for you, before you make the appointment, ask questions. Some websites have chat boxes or ways to send emails. If not, or if that’s not your preference, just call. Whoever answers the phone will likely be able to tell you if the lawyer handles that kind of case.
Don’t be afraid to give information to the person who answers the phone. We’ve found that a lot of people don’t want to talk to the receptionist because the information is private. They only want to talk to the lawyer. When this happens, it’s generally to their own detriment. I’ve gotten to the point in my career where, unless I know the person, I won’t see anyone who won’t give basic information to the folks who help me out. Nine times out of ten I can’t even help them. They’ve wasted their time coming to see me, and they would have known that if they’d answered the simple question, “What kind of case is this?” Besides – everyone who works in a law office knows the confidential nature of our business. They aren’t going to tell anyone. Not only that, but, especially in a small office like mine, there may be no separate receptionist. The person answering my phones is my paralegal, and she’s going to know everything anyway because she is going to work on your file.
Also consider where you are looking. Often, you want to go to a lawyer that is convenient to your home or office. That is understandable, but not always the best idea. I handle a lot of estate work, that is, what happens to people’s property after they die. But if the person died in another state, there’s nothing I can do about that. You have to find a lawyer in that state. Likewise, if you’re dealing with real estate in another state (or, like came into my office today, another country) not only can’t I help, but I can’t even give you useful advice since I only know Georgia Law.
Consider where the action is going to take place. In big cities, where there are a lot of lawyers, it may not matter much, but in smaller places where there are only a handful of lawyers who see each other all the time in court, and where the judges know everyone, someone new might get what we call ‘home cooked.’ Although there are statewide rules, every single court has its own local rules, and there may be some advantage to having local counsel. I’m re-learning this lesson right now where I’m dealing with an estate which is no different than dozens I’ve done before, but since it is in a county I don’t generally go to, I can’t seem to get the forms in the right order for them. I’ll not do that again. (Also, I don’t charge my clients for my mistakes, but I’m guessing a lot of lawyers do, since work done on a client’s behalf is still work done on a client’s behalf.)
That’s an info dump, I know, but keep it in mind when you are searching for a lawyer.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.