18 Apr Guide to Selecting the Right Lawyer for You (Part 1)
To get useful help from a lawyer, you need to have a good relationship with a qualified and capable lawyer who: 1) Understands and cares about you, 2) Communicates well with you, and 3) Is a person that you can trust.
On top of all of that, the lawyer must charge fees you can afford! Hopefully the information in this series can assist you in finding and selecting that lawyer.
We will start by considering “What makes up a good lawyer?” In future entries we will talk about where and how to look for a lawyer, how to focus on what help you need from the lawyer, how to prepare to meet and work with the lawyer, and what to expect to pay for the representation.
What does it take to be a good lawyer?
First, of course, is the ability to know and use the law to do the necessary work and to explain your options and remedies. All lawyers in California must complete law school and take and pass a difficult exam to be licensed to practice, and then they are required to take a number of classes every year to keep current on developments in the law. This helps ensure a minimum level of competence. But you want more than the minimum.
One thing that can add to your confidence in the ability of a lawyer is the amount of experience that they have. This includes how long have they been practicing and how much experience they have with the type of problem that you need help with. Further, you may want to consider how many cases they have worked on, not just the length of time they have practiced. Some lawyers in firms may work for several years on only a few cases. That experience may be less useful than a newer lawyer who has worked on more cases and with more clients. If your case will involve being in court, you will want to know about the number of times the lawyer has appeared in court, especially on cases similar to yours.
Another important characteristic of a good lawyer is the ability to communicate effectively with you. This means speaking and writing in terms and language you understand. This means listening carefully to your ideas and insight. It also means writing clearly and effectively. Sometimes legal writing can be peculiar to non-lawyers, so the lawyer should be willing and able to explain all written documents to you. A good lawyer is probably a busy lawyer, so they may not always be available to accept your phone call, or respond immediately to your text or email message, but they should respond within a reasonable time. A good lawyer will also keep you updated on the progress of your case without you having to ask for the status repeatedly.
The ability to listen can be more complex than just hearing you. The lawyer must be interested in you and your legal problem. He or she must understand your legal problem in the context of other issues in your life, but also be able to guide you to focus on what will be helpful and relevant to finding a legal solution to your specific legal issue.
Creativity is one of the things that separates good lawyers from average ones. The ability to think of possible solutions that might be a bit different and better for you, your family, or maybe even for all parties involved, can be invaluable. Law by its very nature tends to be tied to precedent, to the way things have been done in the past. However, a really good lawyer can see ways to blend and bend the past to solve current problems.
A good lawyer is organized and runs an efficient office. Wasting time undermines even the smartest and most well-intentioned lawyers. A well-organized lawyer won’t necessarily have a lot of fancy tools and technology, but he or she will know what tools are available and how to use them to effectively help you with your case.
Of course, what you need is a good lawyer for you, not some ideal lawyer judged by some imaginary objective standard. A good lawyer for you is one that you are comfortable with, have confidence in, and who communicates well with you. In our next installment we will examine a few ways to find that lawyer, which is just as important!
By Bob Seibel
PLS Advisory Board
Retired Law Professor