Choosing a lawyer to handle your case is an important decision, but one that many clients feel unprepared to make. Attorney-client relationships are, by their nature, confidential, and attorneys are generally prohibited from discussing their past work in sufficient detail to be helpful to new clients. Similarly, former clients are often hesitant (and justifiably so) to provide anything more than a generalized description of their attorney experiences. Without such information to rely on, as a prospective client, you must take matters into your own hands. A few basic steps can help you make sense of the process.
Write down the issues, problems, and questions that are most important to you as you think about your case and what you are trying to achieve. Perhaps you fear losing custody of your children or losing the ability to stay in the marital residence and afford a new place to live. Maybe you worry that your spouse is hiding or spending exorbitant amounts of money or that the family business is at risk. Write it down, and use your list to formulate your core goals that you would like to achieve.
2. Narrow the field
Referrals from trusted friends or family members remain among the most cited methods of choosing an attorney. From polling trusted friends and family members about their attorney experiences, to searching and visiting attorney ratings websites (or the State Bar for an attorney’s disciplinary history), many clients will create a short list of attorneys they will consider hiring. While relying on anecdotes from friends and family about their attorney experiences can lead to uneven reviews – their personal situations may have little in common with your own – by using multiple sources of information, you can start to get an idea of the reputations of attorneys in your area.
3. Schedule an attorney consultation
Start meeting with the lawyers on your short list. Use your priorities list to keep your meetings focused on the issues most important to you, and ask the attorney how he or she would design a strategy to achieve your goals. Through this process, you will be able to determine whether the attorney is a good fit for you and for your case. You will need to be comfortable discussing the intimate details of your financial and personal life, including embarrassing or sensitive matters, and you must feel confident that the attorney is well-equipped to deal with the complexities of your case.
Before hiring the attorney, make sure that they have given you a clear idea of (a) the legal options available to achieve your goals, (b) the attorney’s assessment, based on the information you gave them, of how best to proceed with your case, and (c) how long and how much money it will take to achieve your goals. Best of luck.
Eric B. Gans is a family lawyer at OxtonStaabGans in Santa Barbara, California.