If while working on Nolo's Online Will, you decide that you would like help from a lawyer, you will next need to search for an attorney that meets your needs. Finding a competent lawyer who charges a reasonable fee and respects your efforts to prepare your own estate planning documents may not be easy. First of all, you'll want to find a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. Most general practice lawyers are simply not sufficiently educated in this field to competently address complicated problems. Here are some other ways to look for help.
The best way to find a lawyer is to get a recommendation from someone you trust. So ask your relatives and friends—especially those you know who have substantial assets and have likely made an estate plan. You may also want to ask those who run their own businesses. They are likely to have a relationship with a lawyer, and if that lawyer doesn't handle estate planning, he or she probably knows someone who does.
Finally, you might check with people you know in any social or other organization in which you are involved. Senior citizens' centers and other groups that advise and assist older people may have a list of local lawyers who specialize in wills and estate planning and are well regarded.
Some unions, employers, and consumer action organizations offer group legal plans to their members or employees, who can obtain legal assistance free or for low rates. If you are a member of such a plan, check with it first. Your problem may be covered free of charge. If it is, and you are satisfied that the lawyer you are referred to is knowledgeable in estate planning, this route is probably a good choice.
Some plans, however, give you only a slight reduction in a lawyer's fee. In that case, you may be referred to a lawyer whose main virtue is the willingness to reduce fees in exchange for a high volume of referrals. Chances are you can find a better lawyer outside the plan and negotiate a similar fee.
A lawyer directory will give you the names of attorneys who practice in your area. You will probably find several who specialize in estate planning and will give you an initial consultation for a low fee.
Following are three directories that may help you. Be sure to take the time to check out the credentials and experience of any lawyer who is listed.
Nolo's Lawyer Directory. Nolo has an easy-to-use online directory of lawyers, organized by location and area of expertise. You can find the directory and its comprehensive profiles at www.nolo.com/lawyers.
Lawyers.com. At Lawyers.com you'll find a user-friendly search tool that allows you to tailor results by area of law and geography. You can also search for attorneys by name. Attorney profiles prominently display contact information, list topics of expertise and show ratings—by both clients and other legal professionals.
Martindale.com. Martindale.com offers an advanced search option that allows you to sort not only by practice area and location, but also by criteria like law school. Whether you look for lawyers by name or expertise, you'll find listings with detailed background information, peer and client ratings and even profile visibility.
Your local county bar may have an attorney referral service, which differs from a directory in that a referral service will gather some information about your legal needs and match you with attorneys who might be a good fit for you. Usually you'll get only a few names of attorneys to consider, chosen for you by the knowledgeable people running the referral service, rather than having an entire directory to choose from on your own.