How to Hire A Lawyer
Five part series on how to identify, interview and hire the best lawyer for you.full course
Interview And Hire A Lawyer
Now that you have decided what is important to you, done a little research, and narrowed down the list of potential candidates, the final step is to interview one or two lawyers.
If you have been able to identify a good lawyer through their body of work, you may only need to interview one. Some people want to interview up to three lawyers, but that is time-consuming. When I hire any professional (business consultant, accountant, doctor, etc.), I go through this same process and usually only have to interview one. I will only interview a second if my first choice triggers any red flags or is not a good fit with me at the interview.
As mentioned in the previous article, when you contact the law firm, you should expect to go through an intake process. Prepare your forms and provide documents to the lawyer with enough time for them to fully prepare for your consultation.
As you are going through the intake forms, write down any questions that come to mind. You should have your list of questions regarding the process, lawyer’s expertise, lawyer’s plan of action and pricing prepared.
When you get to the interview, you will need to evaluate the following intangibles:
- How was the experience in dealing with the law firm’s staff?
- Was the lawyer prompt and considerate of your time?
- Did the lawyer listen to you?
- Did the lawyer address your concerns directly?
- Did the lawyer exhibit forthrightness? (Examples may be that the lawyer will tell you that she would need to research a particular legal issue or that she would have to spend some time thinking about a question you posed. Another example of forthrightness is when a lawyer tells you the downsides and risks of your legal problem, as well as possible upsides.)
- Did the lawyer give you a concrete plan on how to handle your matter?
- Did the lawyer demonstrate skill and mastery over the subject matter in a concrete way?
- Did the lawyer ask questions and appear thoughtful before giving you advice?
- Is the lawyer articulate?
- Did the lawyer give you her full attention during your meeting?
- Was the lawyer professional?
- Was the lawyer respectful of you and treat you with collegiality and empathy?
- Do you like the lawyer?
- Do you trust the lawyer?
Lawyers are funny people. Sadly, they often lack in the most basic of social skills, can have strange quirks or suffer from arrogance. Also, lawyers often take too much work and run the danger of missing something important. A quirky lawyer might be OK, but not hire awkward people whom you are hiring as trial lawyers — that only works on TV. Arrogance, inefficiency, inattention, and poor customer service must be avoided. All of these items go back to the list of Traits of the Best Lawyers discussed in article three of this course.
If the lawyer listened to you and addressed your needs directly and if the lawyer treated you like a partner in solving your legal issue, then that lawyer is more likely to be responsive and service-oriented. More importantly, that lawyer will be respectful toward you, have an ego that is under control, see your legal problem as important, and consider what your end goals are in crafting advice and resolution.
That last bit is critical, in fact. It is vital that you have a lawyer who considers your particular needs, preferences and circumstances at all stages of your relationship. A lawyer who does not understand or care about your needs will waste your time and money and you risk a result that is less than satisfactory to you.
Remember, you are looking for the right lawyer for you. That means you want a relationship that feels comfortable. You want someone you like and can trust. Once you find that person, do not hesitate to hire her. In most legal situations, time is of the essence.
Without fail, every client or prospective client I have asks one question: “What is this going to cost me?” It’s a fair question. The answer, unfortunately, is rarely a simple one. The only way you can be sure of the fee is if it is a flat fee.
The truth is, how attorneys price their services can be a whole series in itself. It’s a huge topic that draws strong opinions from within the profession. But for your purposes today, there are some threshold decisions that you need to make about fees to help you interview the right lawyers.
Price vs. Value
First, you need to decide whether you are going to shop based on price, or based on value.
I don’t recommend that you shop based on price. It can be penny-wise but pound-foolish. Ideally, you want the best lawyer because your business, property and life are on the line. Sometimes your liberty (freedom) is on the line. Why would you go for a discount professional when so much is as stake? You want the best, and the best lawyers are typically not the cheapest lawyers.
There is a distinction between price and value. A lawyer who offers a lower hourly rate may be cheaper in price, but a worse value. He may not be as efficient, experienced or capable as a more expensive lawyer. Ultimately, they may deliver you a worse result, which actually ends up costing you more money than if you went with the better lawyer (e.g. you pay more in damages/settlement or you pay more in hourly fees because the work is less efficient).
So price should not be your foremost qualification for a lawyer. Value should be.
Consider what is at stake and try to put a value on it. How much money is at issue? Or is your freedom threatened? How important is it to you to get the business deal done? How vulnerable is your business or property and how much is it worth over your lifetime to build and protect it? How much is your time worth in dealing with legal problems or losing ground in your business?Value is what the lawyer makes you or saves you in addressing your legal problem. That is what matters.
Pricing can be a part of value as a larger equation. If you pay a lawyer $1000 per hour, is he three times more valuable or more efficient than the lawyer at $350 an hour? Will he deliver a superior result that saves you thousands or more? Will he use his lower cost staff to do routine work but supervise the strategy and handle the specialized work (such as negotiations or trial)? Does the firm offer a holistic approach to your legal matters? What kind of client experience will you have working with them?
After you begin considering the overall value of the services you need rendered, you will have a better idea of how much you should pay for them. If a lawsuit has only $20,000 at stake but the lawyer is going to charge you $300 per hour for 100 hours ($30,000), then you lose $10,000 and that is not a good trade. But if you have $1,000,000 at stake and the lawyer charges you $150,000, then you gain $850,000 and so you have gained significant value.
Alternative Pricing Models
The majority of lawyers and law firms bill by the hour. That means you will be charged every time your lawyer talks to you (or anyone) about your case, emails you (or anyone about your case), or even just thinks about your case. (As an aside, you want a lawyer to think about your case so that she delivers a superior result, so you do not want to discourage gray matter activity over bill sensitivity.)
Unfortunately, hourly billing also means that will bill for the amount of work they do, not the value that works delivers to you. That means your lawyer is actually paid more to be inefficient and is not incentivized to get you good results as fast as possible. That means all the risk for a good result and the amount of effort it takes rests solely on you. (In part, putting all that risk on you is one of the reasons lawyers are most comfortable with hourly billing.)
Flat fee billing is superior to hourly billing because it shifts the incentive. It encourages your lawyer to be strategic and efficient or they will end up working a lot of time for less profit. Flat fees also focus on value. Think about it: do you really care if it takes your lawyer 10 hours or 1000 hours to get you that million dollar savings? What you want is the result. That result has a value. And it should be up to the lawyer (as the professional) to figure out how to deliver that value as effectively as possible.
Monthly retainers are essentially flat fees for a block of time. The lawyer does as little or as much work as required in a month for a set fee. This continues until the legal matter is completed or the lawyer-client relationship is terminated. The lawyer earns the fee by setting aside the time and capacity to do the work for the client, whether it is ultimately needed. Monthly retainers split the difference of risk and incentives between the client and lawyer.
Seriously consider lawyers who offer flat fees or monthly retainers instead of hourly fees. It’ll make the legal process easier to budget and less painful. And you will be able to make legal decisions based on what is good for the case or your business rather than just choosing less work to keep the bill down.
You have reached the end of the course How to Hire A Lawyer. Now you are ready to hire the right lawyer for you. If you would like to learn more about different Areas of Law, please visit our website resources and blog. If you are ready to hire a lawyer in any of the states served by Bellatrix PC, please set up a new consultation or visit our Packages and Pricing pages.
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