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If you need to hire a lawyer, chances are you’re already stressed out. The last thing you need is the stress of hiring the wrong attorney. It could cost you a whole lot more money, and cost you your case. But where should you begin? Start by knowing what NOT to do. And that’s hiring an attorney you haven’t interviewed. You might as well rip a page out of the phone book, pin it to the wall and throw a dart. Your odds of hitting a bulls-eye are about the same.

Realistically, the best time to find a lawyer is before you need one. If you know that sometime soon you ‘re going to split with your spouse, the contractor you paid twenty grand to hasn’t shown up in months, or you see some other trouble brewing, start making some phone calls. But even if you need help right now, you still need to make time to interview for the right attorney. Start your search by talking to people you trust who have successfully used a lawyer for the same type of issues you are facing. If you’re looking for an attorney to draft wills for you and your spouse, the lawyer Uncle Harry used to incorporate his dry cleaning business probably isn’t the right choice. But Uncle Harry’s lawyer probably does know someone that will fit the bill and be a good match for you. Ask your accountant, your financial planner or your insurance agent for some names. Make sure you are clear about what type of lawyer you are looking for. You also should check-in with the local board of bar overseers to see if the lawyer you are thinking of hiring is in “good- standing” and whether they have ever had their license suspended.

When hiring an attorney, ask how many cases like yours they’ve handled and what percent of their practice is devoted to the same type of law. Get the low-down on their billing procedures. See if they have malpractice insurance. Find out what strategy the attorney would take in tackling your case and get an estimate as to how much it will cost. Remember, you have to carefully compare what one attorney says versus another. One lawyer may just quote you what it will cost to start your case and another may give you an estimate on what it will cost to see the matter through to completion. Ask what you can do to keep the legal costs down and don’t take “nothing” for an answer. You also should ask how quickly you can expect the lawyer to return your phone calls. Don’t be afraid to ask for references. And finally, follow your gut. If you don’t click with the attorney during the interview, no matter how impressive their credentials are, you don’t want to work with them. Dealing with legal issues is tough stuff – the last thing you need is to be intimidated by or uncomfortable with your own attorney.

Once you have located the right attorney, you need to make sure communication between the two of you flows smoothly. Be clear about how you work best. If you absorb information better when it’s in writing, tell your attorney. If you like to talk face to face, say so. Attorneys aren’t mind readers – if you don’t understand something your attorney says, stop them and make them explain it to you in simple English. In other words you need to communicate where you are at. If something isn’t working for you – say so! You also need to respect the fact that your attorney has other clients and is probably moving at warp-speed. Don’t call and say there’s a crisis unless there really is one. One of the quickest ways to have a break-down in communication with your attorney is by constantly crying wolf. And finally, remember, your attorney isn’t your parent. You are hiring them for their experience, their knowledge of the law and their advice, but you shouldn’t be expecting them to make a life-changing decision for you. It’s your legal case, and your life. A relationship with an attorney may be one of the most important alliances you ever make – put the effort in to find the right match for you and keep the lines of communication wide open by being honest, clear and reasonable.