When it comes choosing a attorney, most people to feel unsure about the steps they should take to conduct their search. Questions such as: “Where do I start? What do I ask?” and “How do I know if I’ve found the right attorney for me?” are completely understandable and honestly, quite common.
This article was written by lawyers to help the individuals learn how to take a strategic, step-by-step approach to searching for the right lawyer for their needs. We’ll take an easy question and answer approach, so you can find the information you need quickly and effectively.
“Where should I look for a good lawyer?”
This is the first question that often comes up. Luckily, in today’s world there are a series of options available to start your search; however, we are definitely partial to the below choices. We use these options personally, and recommend them in this order to our friends and family.
Ask for Referrals:
Referrals from Professionals
When looking for an attorney, start by asking trusted individuals in your life for a referral. In particular, prioritize asking trusted professionals. This may be your financial planner/advisor, your accountant, your realtor… even your dentist!
Most professionals develop a wide range of connections throughout their careers, and you never know who is in their circle. You can also trust a professional to recommend only quality referrals; that’s because the quality of the work you receive based upon their recommendations will ultimately reflect back upon them.
If you know lawyers, but they don’t practice in the area of law that you need, there’s still a good chance they have a network from law school or within the county for high quality attorneys working in the area with which you need assistance.
Referrals from Friends and Family
If none of your professional contacts can provide you with a referral, talk to your friends and family. This is a great way to learn what others have experienced, and also of the quality of service they received. Even if you don’t receive a referral you can use, you may learn other valuable information, such as a recommendation for who not to use.
Check the Bar Associations:
State and County – Bar associations are an excellent and underutilized resource. Bar associations come in many forms and can be large organizations, such as the California Bar, or local and based upon specific counties.
For example, if you’re looking for a family law attorney in Santa Clara County, you can contact the California Bar or the Santa Clara County Bar Association. Both organizations have lawyer referral services and can provide you with a list of names of lawyers who are in good standing.
If your case is very specific, we generally recommend using your local bar association as they are involved in your local community and are more likely to have relationships with the local attorneys. However, if you need assistance that isn’t county specific—such as forming a business or Intellectual Property—then utilizing the state bar association will provide you with a wider range of options not limited to your county only.
Specialized associations – In addition to state and county bar associations, there are also organizations that are focused on serving specific populations.
- Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF)
This is a bar association that focuses on serving the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, both as legal professionals and the greater population. If you identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and want to make sure that you work with an attorney who is also a member of that community, or who you know will be a safe person to work with, contacting BALIF for a referral is a great place to start.
- La Raza Lawyers Association
Each county has their own chapter of La Raza. La Raza is an organization focusing on the cultural values, economic interests and social dignity of the Hispanic/Latino community.
- The California Association of Black Lawyers, Charles Houston Bar Association,and Wiley Manuel Bar Association of Sacramento County
Each of these associations specifically focus on serving the needs of Black citizens and the Black community. If you are Black and prefer to have an attorney who is Black or who you know will be a safe person to work with, contacting these associations for a referral that meets your specific needs is a great place to start.
Conduct Online Searches:
Searching online for an attorney is going to be a bit more challenging. Please keep in mind that there are a lot of behind-the-scenes factors that contribute to the search results you receive:
- Google search results use more than 200 ranking factors to determine how a company will rank in Google searches, so the Google algorithm will generally provide websites that are of high quality. However, their website rankings are partially influenced by Search Engine Optimization strategies implemented by a firm’s marketing team. This means that other perfectly reputable firms can be found well beyond the first few search pages of Google.
- Businesses on Yelp either have free or paid for listings. If a business is not paying for their listing, then their position in the search will be at the bottom of the first page, or even further back, on page two or three.
For these reasons, there is no guarantee with a Google or Yelp search that the results you are receiving on the first few pages are the best match for you. The higher results could also be an indicator that the firm has a great marketing team, or that they have paid to be promoted higher in search results.
Important note: The fact that a firm does a good job marketing should not be considered a mark against a firm. We only mention this because it is easy to believe that the top search result is promoting the best firm overall or the best match for you—when in fact, the firm that’s actually the best for you might be on page three of the search results.
This rankings issue is also why we prioritize and recommend asking for referrals first. Having a referral can result in a personal introduction to the law firm. In some instances, a referral will result in a discounted rate. In all instances, our experience is that some personal connection results in higher overall satisfaction with the experience.
“What should I expect in my initial consultation with a lawyer?”
Each law office has different policies and procedures for consultations with potential clients. At some offices, your first call will be directly with the attorney; at other offices you will speak with administrative staff prior to speaking with the attorney. Some offices offer free consultations, while others charge fees.
That said, there is no uniform way to approach the consultation, and each firm will utilize the process that works best for them. So keep an open mind when it comes to how each firm handles a consultation—expect that each will be different!
“What questions should I ask the law firm when scheduling a consultation?
When contacting the office to schedule the consultation, ask the person you interact with the following questions to clearly define that firm’s process:
- How long is the consultation?
- What form does the consultation occur in?
- Is the consultation fee applied to a retainer?
- Will advice be given, or is this a meeting to see if you’re a good fit to work together?
“I’ve now met with (at least one) attorney, how do I know if I should hire them?”
1. The single most important factor in retaining a lawyer is: are you comfortable with them?
Think of your attorney as a doctor. Your attorney will likely need very private and intimate details of your life, including your romantic history, money management details, etc.
We end each consultation by stating that the attorney-client relationship is extremely important, and in its own way, intimate. The attorney you retain is going to learn a lot about you. The success of your case is often tied to your ability to be completely honest with your attorney. If you don’t feel comfortable being completely transparent and honest with your attorney, then your attorney’s ability to fiercely advocate for you is going to be negatively affected.
2. Ask yourself if the lawyer’s presentation style will be effective for your needs.
Lots of people are looking for vicious ‘attack dogs’ or sharks for attorneys. There are attorneys who can effectively advocate for you and attorneys who will mirror your anger or other emotions, and help you exact revenge. Overly aggressive attorneys cannot ever guarantee to provide you with the result you are looking for.
In fact, the only guarantee an overly aggressive attorney can make, is that such a tactic is going to cause a massive and unnecessary increase in your legal fees by prioritizing litigation over resolution.
3. Be wary of attorneys who promise to deliver everything you want.
There are very few situations that allow for one side to receive “everything they want” while the other side “loses everything.” No attorney can promise or guarantee the outcome of your case. If an attorney tells you with any degree of certainty or promise of what the likely outcome will be, do not hire that attorney.
4. Gauge their honesty.
One of your attorney’s roles is to tell you what you need to hear, rather than what you want to hear. Make sure that the attorney you work with will be honest with you about your case. If you are retaining a family law attorney, retain someone who understands and will remind you that the center of your case is your children, not you. That the goal is to serve your kids’ best interests, even if you do not get everything you personally want.
5. Assess the cost: remember, the most expensive lawyer isn’t always the best lawyer.
No good lawyer is going to work for free; however, there is a balance. The most expensive lawyer can only claim to be the most expensive. A good lawyer will likely not be cheap; however, they will effectively function to keep the cost down by prioritizing negotiations, and settlement, and using litigation as a last resort when other options are unsuccessful.
If you’ve narrowed down your list of potential attorneys, there are a few additional questions you can ask to set expectations and get a feel for the law practice. It is best practices to direct this question to support or administrative staff.
More questions you can ask a law firm:
• What is the best way to get a hold of staff once you’re working with the attorney?
• Does the office/attorney prioritize email or phone calls as the primary form of communication?
• Is there a standard length of time for responses to emails or voicemails?
• If I have questions about my case, do they need to be directed to the attorney, or are their other staff members I can reach out to?
• What other important information should I know about this firm?
• How easy is it to get appointments in non-emergency situations?
To summarize our advice for searching a lawyer, start with referrals from trusted professionals; and if that doesn’t work, then utilize your other circles or bar associations for referrals.
More than anything, remember this: the attorney you work with needs to be someone you are comfortable sharing private details with, including things like your mental health, substance consumption, interpersonal conflicts, and so on.
In response, the attorney needs to be one who will be honest with you, not guarantee you results they can’t deliver on, and be transparent about what a likely outcome to your case will be.
Lastly, you do not need an attorney who is going to destroy the other party, but someone who is going to guide you through the legal process, focusing on helping you to the other side so that you can move forward with your life and put this process behind you.
Follow these simple guidelines, and chances are you’ll find an attorney that will be the right fit for your needs.
Legal Disclaimer: The materials contained on this website have been prepared by Gomez Edwards Law Group, LLP, and are intended for informational purposes only. This website contains general information on legal issues and is not a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney licensed in the appropriate jurisdiction. While we attempt to maintain information on this website as accurately as possible, the materials and information may contain errors or omissions, and may be out-of-date, for which we disclaim liability. Gomez Edwards Law Group, LLP expressly disclaims all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this website. The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.