How to Find a Lawyer: Everything You Need to Know

Finding a lawyer can be difficult across the U.S. because the process requires careful research and consultations with each potential attorney.

How Do I Find a Lawyer?

Finding a lawyer can be difficult because so many people practice law in cities across the U.S. The process requires careful research and consultations with each potential attorney. The goal is to find a lawyer who has the expertise to handle your case and help with your problem, not just find a lawyer who offers the best rates or the most advertisements in your area.

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When searching for a lawyer, the most important thing to consider is whether you feel comfortable talking to the lawyer you hire. In most legal cases, you’ll share personal information and you should be very upfront and honest about all facts pertaining to your issue. If you feel uncomfortable sharing any of this information with your lawyer, he or she is not the right choice.

The next step in searching out lawyers is finding those who specialize in the area of law that relates to your issue. If you’re considering a divorce or fighting for legal custody of children, don’t hire a criminal lawyer or immigration attorney. An attorney who practices family law will understand the regulations and laws around marriage, divorce, and custody better than someone who hasn’t looked at them since law school. Lawyers in various specialties will also keep up with changing regulations and laws through continuing education.

If you meet with a lawyer who specializes in several areas, you may want to ask for a breakdown of case types he or she handles. For example, if you’re looking for a personal injury lawyer, but only 10 percent of the attorney’s cases relate to personal injury, it may be better to find someone who spends more time in this area.

Friends and family members might have experience working with lawyers, so talk to them as part of your search. If you don’t know anyone who has gone through a similar legal case, try searching for reviews online. Reviews offer others’ personal accounts of experiences with specific attorneys. You may also learn about how the lawyer interacts with his/her clients and potential outcomes of past cases.

You can also look for newspaper or Yellow Pages advertisements, or even online ads when you’re searching for attorneys in your area. Some lawyers don’t advertise, aside from listing their information in the Yellow Pages. But advertising is allowed by the State Bar Association, as long as the campaigns don’t contain any misleading or false information.

Make sure to bring a copy or recording of the ad to your consultation, especially if it included any information about fees or discounted rates. State law requires that any joint advertising campaigns include the names of all participating lawyers in a group.

The cost of hiring an attorney will vary drastically, but you should be able to get a ballpark estimate based on the details of your case. Some lawyers offer flat-rate pricing for straightforward cases, such as bankruptcy, divorces that don’t involve children, immigration, wills and estates, and even some criminal cases.

But if flat-rate pricing isn’t an option, make sure to understand the different fees associated with hiring a lawyer. These may include:

  • Consultation fee

Before scheduling an appointment to meet with a lawyer, ask the receptionist or legal secretary about any consultation fees. Some attorneys offer free consultations, but if there is a charge, ask whether it’s a flat-rate cost or based on the length of time that the consultation takes.

  • Contingency fees

A lawyer who uses contingency fees only receives payment when he or she wins your case. The total of the contingency fee will also vary based on the amount of the settlement, although the average is about 25-35 percent of the total. Contingency fees are most common in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

  • Hourly fees

The hourly fee billing schedule is the most common method for lawyers. A lawyer’s hourly rate will vary, although it’s rare to find one who charges less than $150 per hour. Highly specialized lawyers with a lot of experience in a specific area of law might charge $300-$500 per hour.

The location also factors in, since lawyers in bigger metropolitan areas tend to charge higher hourly rates than those in rural areas or small towns.

Other factors that impact a lawyer’s hourly rate include overhead costs, the firm’s regulations, and the size of the staff.

  • Delivery fees

When lawyers have to deliver legal documents to you or other parties, they may use courier services that charge fees for each delivery. The client is typically responsible to pay these delivery fees.

  • Retainer fee

A retainer fee is sort of like a down payment toward the hourly rate for your case. As your attorney spends time on the case, he or she will deduct from the retainer fee and give you an itemized statement every month or few months.

A retainer fee is rarely refundable, so make sure you plan to move forward with the case and the attorney before making any payment.

  • Filing fees

When you file documents or suits with the court, you will have to pay state- or federally-regulated fees. Your lawyer should have an idea of what the filing fees will be in a specific case, so ask before you make a decision.

  • Statutory fee

Some types of issues, such as those relating to bankruptcy or probation, have court-mandated fees that clients must pay their attorneys. Courts sometimes set statutory fees, although this is rare.

  • Court costs

Similar to filing fees, there are costs associated with going to court.

  • Secretarial time

Your lawyer may offset some of the legal tasks to his or her legal secretary or paralegal. Make sure to ask whether any associated fees will be billed separately or wrapped up into the attorney’s hourly or flat-rate fee.

Lawyers typically accept cash, check, and major credit cards for payment. Some offer payment plan arrangements as well. Your attorney should give you a fee agreement to sign, which will outline the expected cost and any fees, such as the hourly rate, flat rate, required retainer fee, contingency percentage, or other related costs.

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