The single most important decision you can make in handling your injury case is choosing the right attorney. Put simply, a bad lawyer can ruin your case. That could result in real tragedy. Not all attorneys are created equal. The right lawyer could be the difference
between winning and losing. Time is of the essence. In some situations, such as a car accident, the clock begins to tick on important legal deadlines right away, so you must decide on whom to hire in a hurry. Nevertheless, you can make a smart, informed decision quickly if you use common sense and follow a few straightforward guidelines:
5 EASY STEPS
1. Do Your Homework.
2. Examine Experience.
3. Question Qualifications.
4. Research Reputation.
5. Interview Attorneys.
Begin by considering the importance of hiring a good lawyer. This will motivate
you to put in the work necessary to finding the right attorney. For example, as
mentioned above, in a family law dispute, you may risk losing your children.
Auto accident injury cases put your health and wealth at stake. Finally, estate
planning helps you protect your family’s legacy. In short, when dealing with
the law, the stakes are high. You deserve legal protection provided by an
effective, experienced lawyer that you can trust. If you do not take a moment to
consider how much you have on the line, you will never commit to doing the
work necessary to selecting the right lawyer.
Once you appreciate the significance of hiring the right lawyer, the first step is
“Doing Your Homework.” With any important dilemma in life — buying a home,
choosing a career, hiring a doctor or lawyer — you will make a better decision if
you carefully investigate your options. There is no reason to put less effort into
choosing your lawyer than you would to pick out your next automobile or
smartphone. Study your options carefully. It’s important.
The quickest and easiest place to begin is the internet. The obvious upside of
an online search is that it allows 24-7 access to a tremendous amount of
information about the law and lawyers. However, there is such a thing as
internet information overload, a fact you may observe when your search turns
up an abundance of self-serving hype by “lazy lawyers” who are more
interested in their financial bottom line than your legal needs. You must be
especially suspicious of lawyers ads and law firm websites that promise to “be
aggressive” and “care about you.” Remember, no lawyers (even “lazy
lawyers”) look bad on their own websites!
The best way to balance the abundance of the web’s online information with its
potential negative effects is to supplement your internet search through word
of mouth investigation, written information requests, and attorney-client
As discussed below, the most important considerations in selecting the right
• Qualifications; and
Websites, legal directories, publications, friends, attorneys, and many other
sources can provide you with this information. However, while each of those
sources can be helpful and informative, none is ultimately as effective as
speaking to the attorneys directly.
Most attorneys will talk to you by phone about the legal issue you are facing
and, if they handle the type of case you have, they will typically offer to meet
with you in-person. This initial meeting is called a consultation. You should use
this opportunity to interview attorneys and confirm who is the best fit for you.
However, before you schedule your first attorney interview, you should conduct
some advance research at home. This will help you “weed out” any obviously
Ultimately, investigating your options up front could save you time and energy.
A few minutes of smart online research could prevent hours of meetings with
lawyers who are patently wrong for your case. It could also prevent you from
overexposing yourself to the awkward “sales” situation created when lawyers
try to pressure you into hiring their firms during the meetings.
Before you set up consultations with any attorneys, ask the lawyers you are
considering to send you written information through the mail or email.
Specifically, request the following:
• a written outline or explanation of the process involved in your type of case;
• a professional biography or curriculum vitae that summarizes the lawyer’s
qualifications and experience;
• a sample fee agreement that outlines the fees and costs the lawyer will charge
• a written confirmation of professional responsibility insurance (a/k/a legal
malpractice coverage) of at least one million dollars.
If any lawyers refuse or fail to produce these basic materials upon request
BEFORE you meet with them, watch out!
Once you request, receive, and review the written materials discussed above, it
is time to consult the top lawyers on your list. This is perhaps the most
important step in hiring the right attorney. This “initial consultation” process
is important because it allows you to determine whether you like and trust the
lawyers, and it permits the attorneys to decide whether they want to handle
your case. Use this time to conduct a thoughtful interview. (A checklist with
sample interview questions is provided at the end of this guide for your
Accomplished lawyers will welcome your questions because they will take it as
a sign that you have done your homework. It shows the attorneys that you take
your case (and their job) very seriously. Remember that when you are
interviewing an attorney, that lawyer is also interviewing you to see if he or
she wants to take your case. A good lawyer would rather represent a truly
prepared client — that is, a client who is committed to getting the best legal
If you dedicate yourself to a thorough attorney-client interview focusing on the
lawyer’s experience, qualifications, and professional reputation, your chances
of choosing the right lawyer for your case will increase tremendously.
Therefore, you should not be afraid to interrogate the lawyers regarding these
topics. Ask thoughtful, direct questions. Demand straight answers. Consider
the information you obtain, and go with your instincts. It is important to be
both comfortable with and confident in your attorney.
Experience is incredibly important. Hiring a “green” lawyer could be
disastrous. Do not assume all attorneys have the experience necessary to
handle your case properly. Not all lawyers have “paid their dues” obtaining the
quality experience you need.
The first aspect of experience to consider is the length of each lawyer’s legal
career. In general, you should probably avoid rookie lawyers if you can afford a
more experienced attorney. However, do not focus exclusively on how many
years the attorneys have practiced law; question them about what they have
been doing all those years. With regard to experience, quality is as important as
Next, you should examine the focus of attorney experience. For example, if you
need an injury lawyer, determine how many similar injury cases the attorneys
have handled, how many of those cases went to trial or settled, what results
were achieved in those cases, etc.
Another aspect of experience worth exploring is employment history. Some
prior jobs prove particularly helpful to preparing lawyers to handle certain
types of cases. For example, if you have a criminal defense case, you should
consider hiring a former prosecutor or public defender who has worked in that
jurisdiction. If your matter is pending in a certain court, ask whether any of the
attorneys have clerked for that judge.
Experience matters. On the next page is a list of helpful questions addressing
experience that you should consider asking any attorneys you interview:
• How long have you been a practicing attorney?
• How long have you been practicing in [insert practice area of your need, such
as divorce, auto accident, or real estate]?
• How many cases of this type have you handled?
• How successful have you been at trial?
• How successful have you been at settlement negotiations?
• What percentage of your caseload is focused on [insert practice area of your
• What previous employment best prepared you to handle my case?
• Have you clerked for a judge or worked for other government officials?
• If so, would your past work in the public sector or other law firms help them
handle your case?
Every lawyer licensed to practice in Louisiana is technically “qualified” to
handle your case. However, you should demand much more than this basic
“qualification” in your attorney. Do not settle for the bare minimum.
Begin by considering intelligence. It will benefit you greatly if your lawyer is
the “smartest person in the room” during trial and negotiations. Although IQ is
difficult to measure, law school grades nevertheless provide valuable insight
into attorneys’ intellectual capacity and legal analysis skills. Intelligence is just
one of many qualifications to consider, but it is extremely important.
Publications are another window into attorneys’ capabilities. Ask lawyers
whether they have published any articles,reports,or books. Materials written
about your type of case can help you determine whether your expectations
align with an attorney’s approach. Moreover, authors are typically respected as
thought leaders and authorities.
Additional aspects to address are manner and appearance. Your attorney should
be well-spoken with a professional demeanor. Regarding appearance, begin by
verifying that the lawyers you are interviewing have quality websites. An
impressive online presence is important in this day and age. Next, check out
their office space. Is it clean and professional? Finally, analyze the personal
appearance of the attorneys and their support staff. They need not be
physically attractive, but their looks should be professional and appropriate.
Your lawyer’s image should command respect.
When you hire a lawyer, you actually engage a law firm of legal professionals
and support staff. For this reason, you should ask about the entire team of
partners, associates, and staff. Who will answer and return your phone calls
and emails? Will the lawyer handling your initial consultation appear at all
hearings and meetings, or will a separate associate attorney be assigned? In
short, take a moment to analyze the entire team, not just the lead lawyer.
Finally, a key qualification to consider is community involvement. The best
lawyers serve both the legal industry and the community at large in leadership
positions. Within the legal field, ask about participation in bar associations,
inns of court, and other lawyer groups. Also, check to see if the attorneys have
taught continuing legal education (CLE) courses for other attorneys and
judges. Look for lawyers who have helped the greater community through non-
legal civic groups. Top lawyers serve society through service organizations like
Rotary, Kiwanis, and Jaycees, as well as PTAs, nonprofits, and public boards.
You should hire an attorney who has not only participated in organizations as a
member, but has lead these groups as an officer elected by their fellow
members. Serving as president or treasurer of a community organization
demonstrates that they have earned public trust.
The following questions about qualifications will help you interview attorneys
for your case:
• Where did you go to school?
• What were your grades?
• Have you continued your education in the area of law applicable to my case?
• Are you active with any law journals, bar associations, or professional
• Are you a community leader? Explain.
• Have others trusted you with authority in community organizations? (E.g.:
club officers, board of directors, youth sports coaching, etc.)
• Do you have a professional website that describes your qualifications?
• Have you been selected by well-respected legal organizations to lecture on
[insert practice area of your need]?
• Have you been selected by your peers to lead bar associations, inns of court,
law reviews, legal journals, and other lawyer organizations?
• Have you written any books, articles or other publications? If so, please
provide a copy.
• Do you have experienced, knowledgeable, informative, and courteous team
working with you on every case?
• (Ask Yourself) Are the attorneys well-spoken with appropriate personal
• (Ask Yourself) Do you feel comfortable with the attorneys and their staff?
• (Ask Yourself) Do the attorneys work out of professional looking offices?
This topic can be awkward to address and difficult to evaluate, but it
nevertheless remains extremely important. Your lawyer’s reputation could be
critical to your success. Do not assume the lawyers you interview are widely
respected. Rather, investigate their reputations via industry insiders, online
legal directories, social media, word of mouth, awards, and actual client
If you have access to judges, court reporters, bailiffs, or even other lawyers,
bluntly ask them what they think of the attorneys you are considering to
handle your case. This “courthouse gang” of local “insiders” would know
better than most people which lawyers are the most capable.
Online legal directories are another excellent reputation resource. The most
respected and popular directories are Martindale-Hubbell®, Avvo, and Super
Lawyers®. Unlike some less reputable sources, ratings in these directories are
earned rather than purchased.
Perhaps the most credible source of this type is the Martindale-Hubbell® Peer
Review RatingsTM system available at www.martindale.com. At over 130 years
old, Martindale-Hubbell’s system is the trusted “granddaddy” of attorney
ratings services. Moreover, due to its system of obtaining anonymous ratings
from peer attorneys and judges, this directory provides a fairly objective
indicator of a lawyer’s ethical standards and professional abilities. Ratings are
based on attorneys’ legal knowledge, analytical capabilities, judgment,
communication ability, and legal experience. Ideally, you should hire a lawyer
rated AV Preeminent® by Martindale because this rating reflects an attorney
recognized by judges and other lawyers as having achieved the height of
professional excellence in legal ability and ethical standards.
Martindale-Hubbell® also provides client review ratings that allow actual
clients to provide feedback on attorneys and evaluate their services.
Martindale’s system asks clients questions that assess communication ability,
quality of service, responsiveness and value for the money on specific matters
for which they engaged the lawyers.
If Martindale-Hubbell® is the graybearded veteran of lawyer review services,
Avvo.com is the scrappy up-and-comer. Since 2007, Avvo (short for “avvacato,”
the Italian word for lawyer) has grown to become the world’s largest legal
directory. It claims to rate over 95% of American lawyers. Avvo rates lawyers
on a numerical scale from 1-10, with 10.0 Superb being the highest rating
available. The Avvo rating is calculated using a mathematical model that
considers the information shown in a lawyer’s profile, including a lawyer’s years
in practice, disciplinary history, professional achievements and industry
recognition – all factors that, in Avvo’s opinion, are relevant to assessing a
lawyer’s qualifications. Avvo claims its method can help you find the right
lawyer because it’s unbiased and easy to understand.
Another popular lawyer rating service is Super Lawyers®. With a selection
process patented by The United States Patent and Trademark Office, Super
Lawyers® selects its attorneys using peer nominations combined with third
party research. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition
and professional achievement. Selections are made on an annual, state-by-state
basis. Less than 5% of Louisiana attorneys make the Super Lawyers® list and
less than half of that total make the Super Lawyers® Rising Stars list of
exceptional lawyers under the age of 40. The lists are available at
In addition to online legal directories, the internet provides tremendous
resources for reading reviews of attorneys by their clients. The two most
popular places should be no surprise: Google and Facebook. Google is
constantly improving its local services. Part of this process has been the
evolution of Google+Local, which allows people to review local businesses and
other places they visit using a 5-star scale and comments. Facebook also rates
local businesses using a 5-star scale and comments. For all lawyers and law
firms that you are considering, check out their reviews on Google and
Facebook. These online services are a great source of modern word-of-mouth
Awards are another indicator of a good reputation. With awards, it is important
to consider the source and verify that the awards are not “for sale.” For
example, some advertisers, like the telephone book, reportedly offer their
advertising customers “awards” only if they purchase certain advertisements.
Bewareof“awards”thatareforsale;itisa scam. A few awards you can trust are
Martindale’s “Client Distinction Award” and Avvo’s “Client Choice Award.”
They are earned through superior ratings from real clients, not bought.
Finally, client testimonials are perhaps the best source of reputation
information. In addition to online reviews of attorneys by former clients, you
should ask the lawyers you interview for copies of client satisfaction reviews,
quotes, and other testimonials.
To research reputation, consider the following questions:
• (Ask Others) Do the attorneys have reputations for success in the city and
parish where you need help?
• (Ask Others) Do the attorneys have statewide reputations?
• (Ask Others) Do the attorneys have national reputations?
• (Check Online) Do the attorneys have AV Preeminent ratings on
• (Check Online) Do the attorneys have 10.0 Superb ratings on Avvo.com?
• (Check Online) Are the attorneys listed on the Super Lawyers or Risings
Stars on SuperLawyers.com?
• (Check Online) Do the attorneys have 5-star ratings on Google and Facebook?
• (Ask Around) Do judges, other lawyers, court reporters, bailiffs, and other
“insiders” recommend the attorneys?
• Do you receive referrals from other Louisiana attorneys? If so, from whom?
• Do you receive referrals from prior clients? If so, from whom?
• Do you receive referrals from other professionals such as doctors, engineers,
CPA’s etc.? If so, from whom?
• Can you provide testimonials from prior clients?
• Have you won any awards for client satisfaction or legal service? If so, please