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How do I Choose the Right Lawyer? Part 1: Finding a Lawyer

At last count, Oregon had around 12,000 active resident lawyers. This is a little over 30 lawyers for every 100,000 residents in the entire state. So, you wouldn’t think that it should be difficult to select a lawyer to help you with your legal questions. However, this is a question that people ask us all the time, because it’s hard to pick the lawyer that’s right for you, your business, and your family.

Let’s say that you already have decided that you need to retain the services of a lawyer. (Perhaps after reading this helpful gem from our blog archives). You still have to find the best lawyer for you. In this occasional series on WealthLawBlog.com, we’re going to first look at common ways that clients find lawyers to represent them. Then, we’ll look at things that you should think about when you are interviewing lawyers to work on your project. Finally, we’ll look at some of the things to keep in mind when you need a specialized type of attorney.

1. The Internet and other paid ads

We’ve all done it – let’s say that you need a plumber. So you Google “Plumber” or maybe you go to Angie’s List or Yelp to look for reviews on plumbers in your area. This is an increasingly common, but unpredictable way to select a lawyer. Unlike a leaky pipe, online reviewers will almost never disclose all of the facts of their case. Therefore, you can’t really tell if the lawyer would do a good job for you or not. Additionally, many of the most experienced lawyers started practicing law at a time when the rules of professional conduct didn’t allow lawyers to advertise in any way other than a small posting in the phone book. Law firms of all sizes are investing more into their internet presence (like WealthLawBlog.com) as a way to communicate with clients, and advertising in general. However, we have heard that it is hard for firms to distinguish themselves online so all of the law firms start to look the same.

2. State Bar Referral Line

Most state bar associations have a phone number that you can call and they will refer you to an attorney. These are services that attorneys subscribe to in order to generate business. They say generally what area of law they practice in and where they are willing to meet clients. The advantage to these lists is that the lawyers agree to only charge a nominal amount for the initial discussion. Also, if you don’t know any lawyers, this may be a way to find someone. The disadvantage is that you never know what quality of attorney you are going to get. The folks that work at the referral lines rotate through the lists of attorneys in the practice and geographic areas as potential clients call in to the phone number. You might get a great attorney, or you might get someone who is not so great. Many attorneys also don’t like this list, because it is not the way to get the very best clients – i.e., those who are easy to work with and pay their bills on time.

3. Family and Friends

Most of us have friends and family who have had to hire a lawyer in the past. You can ask them how their experience was and what advice they would have. If their case was similar to yours, you can ask them if they think that you should hire the lawyer they worked with. You have to keep in mind though, that they may not be comfortable sharing all the details of what they worked with the lawyer on and their lawyer won’t be able to discuss it because of client confidentiality, which we’ll talk about next time. Similarly, you may not want to go into specifics with your family or friend. We deal with very sensitive matters in this office, and clients often want to keep things confidential. This may mean that you, your friend, or family member may be acting without the complete picture when they refer you to an attorney. In that case, I’d recommend that you get referrals from a number of different folks.

If you are fortunate enough to be related to, or friends with, an attorney (Hi Mom!), that person may be able to help you with your concern or can help you figure out what kind of attorney should be able to help you best and then refer you to a couple of attorneys. Lawyers who are active in an area will generally hear things about the best and worst lawyers out there and can help you find someone. We get referrals all the time from other lawyers who have a client that needs some specialized help or that needs a lawyer with a presence in Portland or Hood River.

4. Referrals from other professionals

Finally, lawyers get many of our best referrals from other professionals in the area. Your accountant, doctor, or financial advisor probably knows you very well. They also almost certainly know a variety of lawyers who practice in the area and may be able to refer you to a lawyer that can help you solve the problem in front of you but that may also be a good fit for you and your situation. A financial advisor, for example, will generally only refer a client to someone that they really believe will be a good fit for the client, as they often believe that it would reflect poorly on them if it didn’t work out.

That said, an accountant may refer a client to lawyers who have different approaches to problem solving. For example, we often see referral lists in litigation cases where one of the lawyers is settlement-oriented, another of the lawyers is a take-no-prisoners-fight-to-the-death-oriented, and the third lawyer is somewhere in between the two.

Lawyers like referrals from other professionals that they trust. The most effective business owners, litigants, and consumers of legal services are also those who have good teams of professionals around them. So, if your accountant and tax lawyer communicate well, then it will save you time and money.

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Once you have found an attorney, you have to figure out if they are the right person to represent you. Our next article in this series will discuss how to interview a lawyer (once you’ve found them) to see if they’d be a good fit for your team.