Many people have to seek legal advice at some point in their lifetime. When it comes to hiring an attorney, your choice has a significant impact on the outcome of the case, whether it is a matter of a simple DUI (Driving under the influence) or a complicated divorce. However, finding the right legal help is much easier said than done.
With so many lawyers out there having different types of expertise, the process may feel like finding a needle in a haystack. But, the good news is, many lawyers offer a free initial consultation. You can use this opportunity to find out whether the lawyer is as good as they claim to be.
Asking the following 5 questions to your lawyer during the free consultation will help you make an informed decision.
1. How Long Have You Been Practicing Law?
As is the case with every other profession, experience counts in the field of law, too. In fact, experience may even hold more value in this field than others. While this might seem obvious, the first thing you need to know about your potential lawyer is how long they have been practicing their profession. Furthermore, the lawyer needs to have experience in the area of law that correlates to your needs.
So, how much experience is good enough? Usually, you should aim for lawyers with at least a decade of litigation experience. But, it will largely depend on your case. For example, a personal injury case is far more complicated compared to a DUI case, and may require the brain of a veteran lawyer.
2. What Is Your Fee Structure?
The number of legal expenses and attorney fees will also depend on your case. Still, the lawyer should be able to tell you a ballpark figure upfront. If you are suing for damages, such as a personal injury case, most lawyers will work on a contingency basis. This means they will take a fixed portion (usually one-third) of the recovery (final amount paid to you by the defendant) as fees. In other cases, such as criminal prosecution, you may have to pay a fixed amount upfront or an hourly rate basis.
In some cases, you might not have to pay any lawyer fees. For example, lemon law lawyers in California are not likely to ask you for out-of-pocket costs because the law requires the defendants (car manufacturers or dealerships) to pay all attorney expenses if you prevail.
However, in most other cases, apart from the attorney fees, you will also have to pay for various legal expenses including paperwork, notarization, detective work, expert witnesses, and more. Try to get an estimate for all these expenses before hiring a lawyer. You should also ask about payment options and the billing cycle.
3. How Many Cases Similar to Mine Have You Handled Before?
Sometimes, a lawyer may have years of experience in a particular area, yet, they may not have encountered a case similar to yours. Would you ask a heart surgeon who hasn’t performed a single surgery before to perform an angioplasty on you or your loved one? For obvious reasons, you likely wouldn’t take the risk.
So, why would you trust a rookie with your case? You need to ask, without any hesitation, about the attorney’s track record. Don’t forget to ask how many court and jury trials the lawyer had, what the results were, whether or not the cases took place in the same courthouse, and what the pre-trial settlement offers were. Try to get detailed answers to all these questions, as they will reveal the real scope of the lawyer’s experience.
4. Are There Any Clients Who Can Provide Some References?
Most attorneys have excellent communication skills. So, whenever you meet a lawyer, they will probably paint a mighty picture of their achievements. Fortunately, there is a simple way to verify their claims, whatever they may be. Ask the lawyer for a list of their former clients who may be willing to share their experiences with you.
If the attorney has nothing to hide, he or she will proudly share the contact numbers of a few clients. If the lawyer tries to hide behind the confidentiality excuse, it’s a sign you should probably take their name off your list. Successful and professional lawyers are more than willing to share the contact numbers of their clients. They certainly know how to capitalize on word-of-mouth publicity.
5. What Do You Think of My Case?
After presenting your case to the lawyer, ask them what they think of it. Is it winnable? Are there any other ways to solve your legal problem? Perhaps you can choose arbitration or an out-of-court settlement. How long will it take to resolve this issue? Lawyers won’t be able to predict the exact outcome of your case. However, they will certainly be able to give you a preliminary assessment of the situation.
The real purpose of this line of questioning is to find out how honest your potential lawyer is. Whether you have a valid case or a weak one, the attorney should tell you frankly. It will simply allow you to prepare yourself for what lies ahead. That’s why you always want your lawyer to be honest with you.
Asking your potential lawyer(s) the right in-depth questions can help you find the most suitable legal help. These five questions will prove helpful in this regard. However, they are just the bare essentials. You can continue this line of questioning further depending on the specifics of your case. Remember, the end goal of asking these questions is to find out about the experience, personality, and overall skills of the lawyer.