How to Find an Excellent Lawyer

Follow these steps to find a good lawyer to help you with your legal issue.

By , Attorney

If your legal problem is complex or involves lots of money, you might not want to attempt to handle the matter without a lawyer. After all, lawyers do more than dispense legal information. They offer strategic advice and apply sophisticated technical skills to legal problems. Ideally, you'll want to find a competent and savvy lawyer to guide you through the complicated legal process.

How to Find the Right Lawyer

Locating a good lawyer who can efficiently help with your particular problem isn't always easy. Don't expect to find a good lawyer by simply reading an advertisement or looking online for a lawyer nearby. There's not enough information in these sources to help you make a valid judgment.

Fortunately, you have other options. Here are a few helpful strategies.

Personal Referrals

A better approach is to talk to people in your community who have experienced the same problem you face—for example, if you have a claim of sexual harassment, speak to a women's group. Ask who their lawyers were and what they think of them. If you talk to half a dozen people who have had a similar legal problem, chances are you'll come away with several good leads.

But don't decide on a lawyer solely based on someone else's recommendation. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer's style and personality. Make your decision about hiring a lawyer after you've met the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you feel comfortable working together.

Also, it might be hard to find a lawyer with the expertise you need through a personal referral. For instance, if your friend had a great divorce lawyer, but you need incorporation advice, the referral won't do you much good. However, don't give up immediately. Consider calling the divorce lawyer, explaining that they came highly recommended, and asking if the office uses a particular business lawyer. You might find the perfect fit.

Online Services

Many sites, including Nolo.com, offer a way to connect with local lawyers based on your location and the type of legal case you have. You answer a few questions about your case and provide your contact information. Then a lawyer specializing in the area you need contacts you directly. Talk to a local lawyer.

Nolo's Lawyer Directory

Nolo offers a unique lawyer directory that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information to help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer's experience, education, fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association.

Business Referrals

Businesses that provide services to key players in the legal area you're interested in might also be able to help you identify lawyers you should consider. For example, if you need small business law representation, speak to your accountant, insurance agent, or real estate broker. These professionals regularly make informed judgments about business lawyers because they come in contact with them frequently.

Lawyer Referral Services

Lawyer referral services are another source of information. However, there is a wide variation in the quality of lawyer referral services, even though they are required to be approved by the state bar association. Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and list only those with particular qualifications and a certain amount of experience. In contrast, other services will list any attorney in good standing with the state bar who maintains liability insurance. Before choosing a lawyer referral service, ask about the qualifications for including an attorney and the screening process.

However, what you might not get from a lawyer referral service is an insight into the lawyer's philosophy. For instance, you won't know the lawyer's communication and litigation style.

Other Sources

Here are a few other sources you can turn to for possible candidates in your search for a lawyer:

  • Avvo - A partner of Nolo, Avvo offers information on nearly every lawyer in the country. You can find client reviews, bar data, disciplinary records, peer endorsements, and more.
  • The director of your state or local chamber of commerce might be a good source of business lawyers.
  • The director of a nonprofit group interested in the subject matter that underlies your lawsuit is sure to know lawyers who work in that area. For example, if your dispute involves stopping a new subdivision development, it would make sense to consult an environmental group committed to fighting urban sprawl.
  • A women's or men's support group will probably have a list of well-regarded family and divorce lawyers.

Consider a Specialist

Keep in mind that a "general practitioner" who practices in many legal areas might not know enough about the particular area of your concern to be effective. For example, of the almost one million lawyers in America today, probably fewer than 50,000 possess sufficient training and experience in small business law to be of real help to an aspiring entrepreneur.

It can pay to work with a lawyer who already knows the field, such as employment discrimination, zoning laws, software design issues, or restaurant licensing. That way, you can take advantage of the fact that the lawyer is already far up the learning curve. A specialist might charge a little more, but it is often money well spent.

Interview the Prospective Lawyers

When you get the names of several good prospects, the next step is to talk to each personally. If you outline your needs in advance, many lawyers will be willing to meet with you for a half-hour or so at no charge so that you can size them up and make an informed decision.

Personality

Pay particular attention to the personal chemistry between you and your lawyer. No matter how experienced and well-recommended a lawyer is, you might never achieve an ideal lawyer-client relationship if you feel uncomfortable with that person during your first meeting or two.

Trust your instincts and seek a lawyer whose personality is compatible with your own. Look also for experience, personal rapport, and accessibility.

Communication and Promptness

You want a lawyer who will work hard on your behalf and follow through promptly on all assignments. Ask all prospective lawyers how to contact them and how long it will take them to return your communications.

Don't overlook this step even if the lawyer is easy to talk to and seems friendly. Busy lawyers often have systems in place to streamline workflow, and they'll appreciate you adhering to it.

Unfortunately, the complaint logs of all lawyer regulatory groups indicate that many lawyers are terrible communicators, but to be fair, some clients' expectations run too high. Although receiving a call within 24 hours is ideal, if you must wait several days before talking to your lawyer on the phone or getting an appointment, there's usually no reason to be alarmed. Most lawyers must juggle office time with busy court calendars, and your patience will be appreciated.

However, anything longer than a few days is usually unwarranted. At a minimum, the office should contact you and explain the delay. Attorneys know that nothing is more aggravating to a client than to have weeks or even months go by without anything happening and that it could be damaging to your case. If your calls are going unreturned, consider hiring a new lawyer before finding yourself in this situation.

Further Resources

For more tips on choosing and working with a lawyer, see the eBook The Lawsuit Survival Guide: A Client's Companion to Litigation by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

Before you meet with a lawyer, you might want to learn some common (and perhaps even not-so-common) legal terms. Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary is available as a free iPhone app (compatible with iPod touch).

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Litigation attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you