Choosing a lawyer is an important decision. Most people that have little to no experience in choosing a lawyer do not even realize that lawyers specialize in specific fields of the law. There is a big difference between a law firm that specializes in criminal law, and one the specializes in corporate law.
Choosing a lawyer that is best for your matter starts with understanding the different types of lawyers available. Learning more about the different fields of law can help you ensure you are choosing a lawyer that can best represent you.
How Many Types of Lawyers Are There?
Choosing a lawyer means that you have over 1.3 million lawyers to choose from in the United States. Narrowing down your choices starts with determining which type of lawyer is best for your matter. What do you need from your lawyer?
A family law attorney can help you with your child custody matter, divorce, and other family court type matters. This can be the ideal lawyer in any type of family law situation but they may not be the best lawyer for other matters.
For example if you are in an auto accident and have suffered a personal injury, then you would want an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side to ensure your rights were protected. Before you make any decisions about choosing a lawyer, you have to know what that lawyer can do.
Rarely will you find an auto accident lawyer that also specializes in other areas of law like patent law. Typically a lawyer will focus on one area of the law and learn as much as they can about that area of the law to provide best services to their clients. For example, if you accidentally tried to reverse out of your garage without remembering to push the button for the garage door openers, you may want to call an auto accident lawyer along with your insurance company to see what kind of repair they can help you with or legal advice should you be held responsible. You may also want to call your garage door company for the repairs, as well.
There are upwards of about 15 different fields of law that a lawyer may practice. Making sure that you are choosing a lawyer in the right field is vital to your case. How do you find out which lawyer does what? You ask.
Most lawyers advertise what fields they specialize in. For example, a trademark lawyer will have that noted somewhere on their website or even on their business card. The same is true for other types of lawyers. When you are choosing a lawyer the best way to determine if the lawyer can provide legal support for your case is to ask.
Specialty Areas Within Specialty Areas
Not only are there specialty areas to consider, but there are specialties within the larger categories. For example, business law attorneys can further narrow the field by specializing in taxes. Each category of law can have subcategories.
Not all criminal defense attorneys can represent you if you have been charged with a federal crime. Additionally not all criminal defense attorneys will take on capital murder cases. Some areas of the law require very special expertise.
Having a lawyer that understands how to navigate the area of law that you need help with is the best way to ensure that you get the results that you need.For example, a criminal lawyer that has a great deal of experience in DUI when you have been charged with a DUI is likely a better choice than choosing a criminal lawyer that focuses on white-collar crime.
While most attorneys will have a general knowledge of all areas of the law they may not feel confident to take on matters that are not within their spectrum of expertise. Remember that lawyers want to provide the best representation for their clients and they want to win just as badly as you want them to.
It can take you a while to find the right lawyer if your case is highly unusual or complicated. If your case encompasses more than one area of the law, you may need a team of lawyers to get the best outcome.
Luckily many law firms are composed of lawyers that specialize in different fields of the law which means while you may have a team of lawyers managing your matter, you will only have to deal with one law firm. It makes it a lot easier to keep up with the status of your case if everything is done by the same firm.
Should You Be Looking for a Lawyer or a Law Firm?
Should you be choosing a lawyer or choosing a law firm? That question can be answered by asking yourself a few questions like:
- Does your matter have several components that require expertise in different areas of the law? For example, if you were in a car accident that you were charged with and now there is a criminal component and an injury component, you may need a firm that has specialists in both fields. If you are going through a divorce, and you are suing for custody of your children, you need a lawyer.
- What type of case are you dealing with? If you have been charged with a speeding violation, a lawyer will do, if you have been charged with international drug trafficking you need a team.
- Do you have co-defendants? Let’s say you and your wife were charged with tax evasion. It would be a conflict of interest to use the same lawyer, but you could use different lawyers from the same firm.
In many cases, a small practice with a single lawyer can easily manage your matter and help you get the outcome that you want. In other cases, it is best to go with a large firm that can pull together a team of lawyers from different specialty areas to help you get the outcome that you need.
What Should You Look For In a Lawyer?
Once you have narrowed down your choices to the specialists in the field of law that you need, it is time to create a shortlist of options. The following should be the criteria that you use to move a lawyer from the long list of options to the shortlist of options:
- Experience. It is hard to argue with experience. An experienced lawyer has been around the block a few times and has the skillset and the knowledge to represent you with confidence.
- How often do they win? While not every attorney will develop a proven track record because of the type of law that they practice, criminal defense attorneys do. How many cases like yours have they won? It is an important statistic to know.
- The attorneys reputation. It is important that you choose an attorney that has a stellar reputation for treating their clients well, staying in communication, and taking their oath to the court seriously.
There is a big difference between a DUI defense attorney and let’s say, a corporate lawyer when it comes to the type of personality you want in your lawyer. If your lawyer has to get up in a courtroom and really fight for your freedom, you want to look for an attorney that has the reputation for being aggressive.
On the other hand if you are searching for a trademark lawyer, being aggressive is not quite as important as paying attention to every single detail. In all cases, it is always a good idea to look for the lawyer that has the most relevant experience.
Your unique needs are best met by a lawyer that has some experience in your type of case. They can draw on their past experiences to formulate a winning strategy for your case. While each case deserves an individualized approach specific experience can help your lawyer to better prepare to get you the best outcome.
Experience is great, aggressive representation is great, but none of it is good without communication. It is important that you look for a lawyer that moves with transparency and that keeps in contact.
One of the biggest complaints you will hear about lawyers is that clients have a hard time reaching them. Lawyers that keep the communication channel open are highly regarded by their clients because the client always knows exactly where they stand.
Choosing a lawyer that understands how important communication is to the level of client satisfaction should be a priority. No matter what type of case you are dealing with, it is stressful. A big part of the stress that clients feel is the apprehension of the unknown. Open communication helps to alleviate a lot of the apprehension thereby making the entire process less stressful for the clients.
Of course, the next question is how do you find a lawyer that keeps open communication with their clients? You ask. You ask friends, family, business associates for recommendations. You read reviews, and of course, you ask the lawyer about their policy on answering emails and other forms of communication.
Some lawyers set aside specific times to answer their client’s questions. Others make themselves always available, and still others assign a paralegal to handles client communications. The point is that legal business is often handled differently, and you as the client have the right to know how communication is handled and choose a lawyer based on your level of comfort with their communication.
Reviews and referrals from friends, family, and business associates can help you to find the lawyer that communicates the way you feel most comfortable with. Of course, you should not confuse open communication with a call every other day or even a weekly call. Many times nothing is happening with the case and there is nothing new to report.
Remember your lawyer is a professional that likely has a full workload, when something does happen, like a court hearing being scheduled, then, of course, you should expect to be contacted. On the other hand, if nothing is happening there is not a lot to talk about. One of the most important things when choosing a lawyer is to choose someone you feel confident in and can trust.
Schedule an Interview
Most lawyers offer a free consultation. The fact is when you go in for your consultation you should go in with the mindset that you are interviewing the lawyer. Just because you have been charged with a crime and had to pay bail bonds to get out of jail does not mean that you can approach the consultation like you are interviewing someone to hire.
Ask pointed questions about the process, and what it will take for you to get the outcome that you are hoping for. You should also ask:
- How much it will cost? How much will you have to pay upfront? How much will you have to pay for each step of the way?
- Do they charge by the hour or by the process? Some lawyers will charge hourly while others will charge a flat fee.
- Are they experienced in your case? Have they handled similar cases? What were the outcomes?
- Do they feel confident in their ability to manage your case? This is an important question to ask.
Getting to know a lawyer before choosing a lawyer is important. A consultation gives you the opportunity that you need to get to know a lawyer and develop a relationship with the lawyer. It is how you build a trusting relationship.
You should meet with more than one lawyer before choosing your lawyer, so you can do some comparison. You want to compare prices, and of course, compare the experience. It is important that you get a feel for what different lawyers bring to the table.
Getting the most value from the lawyer that you choose is not so much about the cost, but more about what you get for the cost. The value is in getting the representation that gets you the outcome that you need.
Hiring Your Lawyer
Retaining a lawyer or hiring a lawyer will require that you sign an agreement and make the payment that you need to. The agreement will outline your responsibilities and your lawyer’s responsibilities to you.
You always want to be honest with your lawyer and there may be a clause in your agreement that you take responsibility for that. The contract will outline when payment is expected, and you will have to adhere to the schedule.
Choosing a lawyer is one of the most important things you can do to get the outcome that you need in your matter. Taking some time to ensure that you are making the right choice is well worth the effort.
Hiring the right lawyer will reduce stress, and get you the support that you need.