10 Questions to Ask to Narrow Down Your Lawyer Search
Finding and hiring a lawyer can be an intimidating process. Chances are your legal issues have you at least a little bit stressed, to say the least, and likely you’ve never had to find a lawyer before. You’ve searched around, Googled lawyers near you, checked out their websites, checked their reviews online, or hopefully used our search, and you’ve found a few lawyers that look good.
Now you’re ready to contact the lawyers, but you’re not even sure what to ask them or how to narrow it down to the right one.. understandably - it can be a difficult process.
There are some important things to consider and typical questions you will want to ask the lawyer you’re considering hiring. Let’s break them down.
1. How much are your fees?
Obviously one of the first things you’re going to want to know is how much the lawyer is going to cost you. The hourly rate from lawyer to lawyer can vary quite a lot - anywhere from $100 per hour up to thousands per hour - so depending on your budget, this question may eliminate some lawyers right off the bat. If the hourly rate is way over your budget, or if the hourly rate is very low (money never lies?), you’ll very quickly narrow your list.
Some more questions related to costs that you may not think to ask are:
- Is it a flat fee or an hourly rate?
- Do you work on contingency?
- Do I need to pay a retainer?
- Are there any statutory fees or other fees that may come up on top of the hourly rate?
2. How long will this case take in total?
In other words, how long are you going to be paying this lawyer to work on your case? While you probably won’t get an exact answer (it can depend on so many things) even a rough estimate can help you figure out what the total costs might be from start to finish.
It might also help you figure out how much time per week the lawyer has available to put towards your file. This is especially important if your legal issue is something you need or want resolved rather quickly.
3. Are you a general practitioner or a specialist?
Some lawyers have a general practice in which they take on a variety of types of legal cases, and others specialize in just one or a few areas of law. There are benefits to each, but it is definitely something to consider based on your needs and the complexities of your legal issue.
For example, having a great lawyer with a general practice can be a huge benefit in that you can use the same lawyer for a multitude of issues, provided you have straightforward needs. This way you develop a closer relationship with your lawyer which could lead to better service and attention. Sort of like having a lifelong family doctor as opposed to hitting up a walk-in clinic.
However, if you have a complex issue where money, your family, or your freedom are at stake, for example, you may want to hire a lawyer that specializes in your specific legal issue and has extensive experience on similar cases. The better versed and more experienced the lawyer is, the better the chance your legal case will resolve in your favour.
You wouldn’t, for example, hire an immigration lawyer for a car accident/personal injury claim.. we know someone who did, and it didn’t go well. We have a Blawg post about it if you wanna read the sad tale.
4. How long have you practiced law?
Something you will definitely want to know about the lawyer you’re considering hiring is how long they’ve been practicing law. It can take years of practice for a lawyer to truly become an expert in their field. Depending on your legal issue, and especially if you expect your case to go to trial, you will want a veteran lawyer on your side.
That is not to say that a young lawyer can’t be a great lawyer. They definitely could! But if you do decide to hire a newer and less experienced lawyer, just make sure you consider their experience as a lawyer and their past successes in relation to their hourly rate.
5. Do you have experience with cases like mine?
It is not only important to consider how long a lawyer has been practicing, but you also need to consider whether they have experience on similar cases. Even if a lawyer has been practicing for 30+ years, if none of their experience is related to your type of issue, there may be a better lawyer out there for you.
If you have a general practitioner with lots of experience that you use for all your legal issues, try to get an honest answer from them whether they have the right experience for your legal matter, and find out how confident they would be taking your issue to trial should that happen.
It’s okay to hire someone else for a particular case when the need arises. Don’t risk your livelihood on loyalty.
6. How many times have you had to go to court? What are your stats?
If yours is the type of legal matter that is likely to end up in court, you’ll want to know whether or not the lawyer you hire has experience litigating in court. On top of that, you’ll want to know that they have actually won cases in court. Not all lawyers have a lot of courtroom experience - most legal cases settle out of court for good reason. Getting in front of a judge or jury is more expensive and can be much less predictable than settling out of court.
If you have a very complicated case, you might even consider hiring a lawyer that specializes in litigation.
7. Who else might work on my case?
Quite often, especially at larger law firms, the lawyer you choose to hire is not the only one working on your case. Lawyers are busy with many different cases at once, so there may be junior associates and/or paralegals working on your case, as well. This is normal, and not a reason to not hire a particular lawyer necessarily, but something you should consider in relation to the lawyer fees you will pay.
You shouldn’t be paying the same hourly rate for a paralegal to work on your case as you would pay for your lawyer’s billable time. However, often all of this is considered in the hourly rate you are quoted. Still a good question to ask.
8. How do you negotiate?
For many legal issues, negotiation can be an important part of the process, and a good negotiator can help you keep your costs (and stress level) down by keeping you out of court. Before you hire a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf, find out what kind of negotiator they are.
Are they a cutthroat shark who takes no prisoners, or are they a fair and reasonable negotiator who will recommend that you compromise when it makes sense to? Or, are they easily pushed around and give in too easily?
Unless money is no object and your first priority is winning at all costs, you’ll probably want a negotiator that suggests a fair agreement that is likely to be accepted by all sides without too much animosity. The sooner an agreement is reached, the lower your costs will be and the less conflict you’ll have to suffer through with the other party.
This could be especially important in a co-parenting/family matter negotiation because you’ll still have to have a considerable relationship with the person on the other side of the negotiation
Table. Reaching an amicable agreement can improve the quality of life for both you and your children immensely.
9. What are my chances of winning my case?
There’s a lot to be said for realistic expectations, and this question will give you a good idea of what type of person the lawyer you’re considering hiring is. Are they a pushy salesman type that hypes you up on getting a huge settlement, or do they tell it is like it is - the good and the bad?
The way the lawyer answers this question will give you a feel for the lawyer’s integrity and honesty, which can really help you narrow down your choices. The answer to this question can also help you decide whether you should even hire a lawyer and pursue your case at all.
Don’t just choose the lawyer that gives you the answer you want to hear. Choose the one that is confident but realistic.
10. What happens if I lose my case?
Equally important to know is what will happen should you take your case to trial and lose, and whether what you stand to gain is worth the risk of what you stand to lose. In some cases, not only will you end up with nothing when you lose, but you might also need to pay for the other party’s legal fees.
In situations where there is a low chance of success, a good lawyer will recommend negotiating an agreement or settling out of court - even if it means accepting less than you had hoped.
Don’t Rush the Process
Finding the right lawyer can take time and patience and is sometimes a frustrating process, especially when important legal issues are on the line - but hang in there. Getting the right lawyer for your legal issue can make all the difference to the outcome, and to how you feel during the process.
If someone doesn’t feel right, keep looking. Don’t lose hope. Afterall, at least it’s still not as bad as online dating..