Life is about choices. Answer the phone or call them back? What should we get on the pizza? Beer or wine? These are all silly examples, but sometimes our choices much more consequential. Like choosing the right lawyer. When something important is on the line (money, kids, freedom), we don’t base our decisions on simple preferences. Instead, we base our decisions on the factors that are most likely to lead to success.
I’m often asked, ‘how do I find the right lawyer?’ Finding a lawyer isn’t hard. There are thousands of us out there. But when the things that matter to you most are on the line, any lawyer won’t do. You need the RIGHT lawyer.
I can’t tell you what is going to be right for your situation. But sometimes, even lawyers need lawyers. And if I were in need of an attorney, here are the 4 qualities I’d look for when choosing the right lawyer.
Number one, they would have to know their stuff. Frankly, this goes for any professional. Before hiring an attorney to help me solve a problem, I would make sure that they know how to solve the problem. Simple. If they don’t know how to solve the problem, or at least how to find the solution, nothing else really matters.
It is important to point out that intelligence, accolades and experience are not the same as knowledge. Knowledge is know-how. An Ivy League degree doesn’t guarantee that someone knows right solution (nothing against Ivy League degrees). Neither does an award from __(insert random company here)__. (FYI, some legal awards are purchased). Similarly, while experience produces knowledge, that is only the case when past experience is related to the problem that needs solving.
What’s my point? I wouldn’t assume that someone has the know-how based solely on their credentials or the number of years under their belt. I would tell them about my situation and then ask them their strategy for solving it. If they can lay out a clear plan and answer my follow up questions with confidence, that would make me confident that they know what they’re doing.
Second, I would look for a lawyer who is an effective communicator. As a client, I would want to be involved in my legal matter. I would want to be kept updated on the situation as things progressed. Therefore, I would need an attorney who is responsive. When I reach out, I would expect to hear back from them at least by the end of the day (sooner if the matter is urgent). If they are hard to get a hold of before you hire them, you can expect the same if you choose to give them your hard earned money. Along the same lines, I would want someone with the patience to break things down for me so that I understand what is going on with my case.
Finally, the most important factor when it comes to communication is listening ability. Believe it or not, listening skills are the cornerstone to effective communication. An attorney who doesn’t listen will never be able to fully understand your goals. And if your advocate doesn’t understand what success looks like to you, they won’t be able to help you find it. Additionally, listening is a sign of respect. I wouldn’t work with someone who doesn’t think that what I have to say is worth their time. Period.
How can you tell if someone is an effective communicator? Talk to them. Have a conversation and get a feel for their communication style. See if they check the right boxes. And if so, you may have a winner.
The third factor I would look at is demeanor. In my opinion there are two types of lawyers — bulldogs and guide-dogs. Bulldogs are fighters. Their mentality is ‘I can’t win unless someone else is losing’. They want handle every problem with a sledgehammer. Guide-dogs on the other hand are collaborators. They prefer to solve problems collaboratively, and they rely on their creativity to do so. Most lawyers are a mix of bulldog and guide-dog. However, one approach or the other will likely come more naturally.
Bulldogs are useful to have on your team when your legal matter involves others who are unsympathetic to your positions. Think criminal defense or a lawsuit against a large corporation, like an insurance company. If the other side is unwilling to listen to what you have to say, a bulldog will growl, bite and claw to put the other side in line. If strength and aggression is the only language the other side understands, the bulldog’s approach will help drive home the message.
Guide-dogs are best suited for situations that require a more tactful approach. Take for example a negotiation with a friendly business partner where managing the relationship with the other side is critical. The guide-dog’s approach opens the door for both sides to work together to find a solution. In the process, the relationship between both parties remains intact or even improves.
You can get a sense of what type of lawyer your working with through a brief conversation. By asking them how they would go about solving a problem, you can get a quick read on their problem solving style. From there, it is up to you to decide if that style is a good fit for the situation.
Last, but certainly not least is cost. Remember, we’re talking about finding the right lawyer. The reality is, it doesn’t matter if an attorney fits all of the criteria above if you can’t afford them. So I would look for an attorney who can work within my budget.
This is easier to find in some areas of the law than others. In areas that don’t involve courts, like estate planning, it is probably easier to find someone who can give you a solution within your budget. However, in situations involving litigation (i.e. courtroom stuff), it is difficult to estimate the amount of time needed to resolve the issue. Therefore, it is also difficult to determine whether the issue can be resolved within a certain budget.
Before choosing a lawyer, I would do some research to figure out what I should expect to spend. Then shop around a bit for an attorney who can work within the range of what I’d be willing to spend. Unless my situation required special knowledge, I feel confident that I could find someone who meets this last criteria along with the first three.
Trust Your Gut
As I mentioned at the start, these are the factors that would matter to me when choosing the right lawyer. There may be factors that I left off this list that matter more to you than the four above. That’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with having a difference of opinions, even in 2021.
Regardless, there is one thing I’m sure of. The best way to determine if a lawyer is right for you is to have a conversation with them. Ask the questions that are on your mind. Get a sense for whether they check all of your boxes. And in the end, don’t be afraid to trust your gut. Sometimes your intuition is the best indicator.
If you’re having trouble finding the right lawyer, MZA Legal may be able to help. Even if we’re not the right firm for you, we’d be happy to help connect you with someone who is. If you need help finding the right lawyer, feel free to give us a call at 215-999-7790.