You’re probably thinking that these days with Professor Google only a fingertip away, it’s going to be really easy to find an amazing lawyer who’ll deliver solutions to all your problems as quick as an Amazon courier.
Not so fast my lovelies… as there are many pitfalls you need to be aware of.
THE FEE DON’T NECESSARILY RELATE TO THE QUALITY
Now I hate to say this but the higher the fee does not necessarily mean the greater the lawyer. Lawyers are not priced like handbags, the more expensive meaning the better quality. In fact, there is really no industry rate for lawyers, they all essentially pick their own fee and I’ve seen fees that range from as low as $100 per hour to well… the sky’s the limit! With any “fee” being flouted you really need to do your research and then ask some confronting questions to any potential lawyer you’re thinking of hiring.
Check with the relevant state Legal Services Board or Society to see if there has been any past disciplinary action taken against the lawyer you’re considering. These actions are normally listed online and explain what the particular problem was. If you’re still interested after finding something – ask the lawyer directly about it.
There are also some key questions you should also ask before appointing anyone:
What experience does the lawyer have in your type of legal matter? (eg. Parenting or property or child support)
How long have they been in practice in family law?
What is their track record of success?
What percentage of their caseload is dedicated to handling your type of legal problem?
What are the lawyer’s fees and how are they structured? Hold your hat here…no lawyer is worth more than $300 per hour.
Who else would be working on your case (paralegals, junior lawyers) and what are their rates?
And even more pertinent would be – why the lawyer feels your very important matter needs to be fed to these assistants!
My favourite question would have to be – Can the lawyer provide references from other clients? Probably due to confidentiality no.
They may waffle something about ‘confidentiality’ but let’s face it if a client really liked what that lawyer did they would have written a commendation about him or her and the lawyer would be equally proud to show it.
SIZE DOESN’T MATTER ONE BIT
And here I’m talking of course about the size of the firm.
Large firms may have bigger resources but they also have greater opportunities to palm your work off to juniors and paralegals.
Small firms and sole practitioners may not have the wide resources of a large firm but the trade off can be a more personalised service and quicker access to your lawyer.
If you have short listed a big and large firm you should request an obligation free meet up with the lawyer and it’s here that you need to not just check out how you feel about the lawyer.
Pay attention to the office, beyond the office or conference room where you met with the lawyer.
Is the law office neat, orderly, efficient and well-run?
What kind of support staff does the lawyer employ?
Do staff appear friendly and helpful?
Is the lawyer’s office really just a room in his home? I think this speaks volumes about ‘commitment’.
Is a large portion of the office space unoccupied?
Red flags such as mass disarray and unhappy staff members should be warning enough to move on without parting with a penny.
ARE THEY BIG ON ADVERTISING AND PROMOTION?
Sometimes when you see a firm or lawyer advertising a lot on the internet you have to start asking a couple of obvious questions. Why are they so desperate for work? It’s legitimate for lawyers to advertise their services but firms that do so with such persistence could be ones to watch out for. Some practices aim to bring in a high volume of clients and turn them over very quickly. Try to avoid these, as they’re unlikely to have your best interests in mind.
I’d also run if you start seeing all those buzz words in their ads like empathy, caring, compassion and excellence. You can work out whether that’s genuine by meeting them and getting good results, not via flowery ad copy.
PROMISING QUICK SOLUTIONS
The legal process is never a fast moving thing and you need to be careful of lawyers who claim they will have your case solved within a month or two. Every case is different, and they shouldn’t guarantee a timeframe without knowing the details. A professional lawyer will assess each case individually and learn the details before estimating how long it might take to resolve.
HARD TO GET A HOLD OF
Good communication is vital for your lawyer. In Australia, lawyers actually have a profession obligation to keep you informed about how your matter is progressing and to return your calls promptly. If you’re trying to communicate with someone, and it’s taking a long time for them to get back to you or they aren’t responding at all, it may be time to cut your losses.
Don’t wait around while they take days to respond to your calls and ignore your emails.
Make sure you terminate their services in writing via an email – I bet they’ll get back to you quickly once they see this subject matter! You should also consider letting the Legal Services Board know when standards are not upheld by a lawyer. After all, they do get paid rather well in most cases.
‘ACCREDTED’ AND SPECIALIST LAWYERS
Most lawyers who have been practicing for many years don’t have ‘specialist’ accreditation in their field.
So when you see that someone is an “Accredited Specialist” it means they have been practicing in one particular area for over 5 years, and have simply sought out accreditation from their state law institute, sat a test, and paid a big fee to have the title of “Accredited Specialist”.
Is a person like this worth the extra hourly rate? Here you’re often paying well over $400 per hour.
Again, it’s up to you but I’ve met many veterans in family law who are great and never needed the extra expensive “accreditation” to add to their business card.
I think it’s much more important for you to feel comfortable about your lawyer and their natural ability and not be reliant on fancy titles like “Principal” “Accredited Specialist” and “Partner”.
Finally, it’s good to know that most states have referral systems where you can ask for a free 20-30 minute phone consultation with a few lawyers before you make up your mind.
Go online and check your local state law institute’s website for the free referral system –
(Some states and territories, due to size, don’t offer this but it doesn’t stop you from having a chat to a few of your local lawyers on the phone and getting a feel for their personalities and ability.)
And good luck with your hunt to locate the best lawyer!