When it comes to seeking legal help the options can be often confusing.
You might ask yourself:
- What makes a professional trustworthy and competent?
- How are fees structured?
- Do I have any recourse if I end up relying on incorrect advice?
Questions like these make one apprehensive about seeking legal advice. But just because something is uncertain doesn’t mean that you should avoid it!
Instead, gaining clarity about what to look out for when seeking legal help is the best solution.
That clarity is what this article aims to provide.
Get Professional help from Professionals (and not your friends!)
There are many skilled lawyers around. Some of your own friends may have legal expertise as well.
Now it might be tempting to reach out to such friends for advice. Often, they will be able to point you in the right direction. But be forewarned! Hiring your own friends to represent you can come with various pressures.
Firstly, there is an issue of fees. Your friends may feel obligated to give you a “mate’s rate”, which ends up being a less profitable use of their time. If your case takes up a bulk of their workload, then they’ll come to resent it!
Another thing that could happen is this – there may be a tendency to question whether a lawyer has done their absolute best. This is especially so when you’re not able to strike such a favorable settlement or an outcome doesn’t seem to match what you had envisioned.
You might question the professional’s advice – are they really looking out for your interests? Or are they looking to get away with doing less work?
All these typical scenarios in a client-lawyer relationship can place strain on a friendship. So if you can afford it, it’s much better to just go with someone else. Yes, you might end up paying more, but you can be assured of objectivity and professionalism.
Plus, you don’t burn any bridges!
Should you choose a specialist? Or a big firm?
I know that these are not mutually exclusive. But typically, when a firm specializes in one area (for example, estate planning) they will not be as large as a firm with different departments providing different services.
With a larger firm, you can expect that they’ll have the resources to work more efficiently. They’ll also be able to leverage the different expertise of each department.
Another reason you might want to go with a big firm? Once you’ve built a strong relationship with the firm, you can go back to them for different legal matters. You’ll know that you can trust their quality of work.
Another upshot of this is that you’ll be bringing more business to the same firm. So you can negotiate for better rates.
Okay, so what makes a firm “big”?
See if the firm covers multiple areas of law such as personal injury, estate planning and bankruptcy. They may also have multiple expertise in a single area. Take for example Cohen, Placitella & Roth, PC group in the medical arena – they cover birth injury, mesothelioma, accident cases, failure to diagnose cancer, cerebral palsy, any other accidents, to name a few.
Communication is key
Often, one engages a lawyer to deal with a very personal and serious matter in their life.
You may not think of yourself as overly worrisome or emotional. But trust me – you’ll be wanting to know how the case is progressing every minute of the day once the lawyers get to work.
Communicating progress with clients isn’t a 100% necessity for all lawyers. Some prefer to bury their noses in their work. These lawyers end up leaving their customers in the dark.
So if you’d prefer to be kept up to date, look for a lawyer that likes to communicate.
A good gauge is to see if the lawyer takes the time to ask you questions about your case during your first meeting. They should also send you a written summary of what you discussed during the meeting, including next steps.
With clear communication, there is a little scope of surprises during the trial.
There are obviously many reasons to choose a one law firm over another. So be clear as to what matters to you. During your meeting with lawyers, describe what you envision your relationship to be like. The most professional lawyers will be able to tell you if they can adhere to what you’re looking for.
In any case, know that you aren’t bound to work with just one law firm. You always have the option to switch legal counsel. Just make sure that you’re not obligated to certain fees (check your contract)!