Shakespear may have told us to kill all the lawyers, but it seems that today, we need them more than ever. Society has never been more litigous and lawyers are involved in virtually all areas of life. Sadly, many of us make huge mistakes in selecting one. Because law is a field many of us are ignorant of, we are prone to falling for hype, exaggeration, and distortions of a group of people who are very skilled at manipulating words.
1) Choosing an attorney in the wrong specialty
Law is a highly specialized field. This begins as soon as you get to law school. While everyone takes certain "general" classes (such as contract law), students are soon split into different groups based on the area of law they are going to study and specialize in. For this reason and others, there is no "general" lawyer who can competently advise you on every area of the law. Instead, you must choose a lawyer in the exact specialty relevant to your problem. Despite this, many people, especially families, seem to hire an attorney, use him for everything (even things outside his expertise) and refer to him as "our lawyer." This is not advised. If you get into a car accident, you cannot count on your tax attorney for reliable legal advice. Do not try to.
2) Hiring a "name" attorney such as one on TV or the side of a bus
These attorneys are not automatically bad, but they are suspect. Think about the types of attorneys who advertise on television. They are usually personal injury lawyers (who, as a group, are dishonest and adept at extorting money from deep-pocketed companies.) Some even come right out and target asbestos victims or other groups believed to have been injured by some large organization. Such attorneys often come right out and say "if you believe X company harmed you, call us! We'll get every last penny!", while viewers a shown a man throwing bags of money into a truck. It's cute advertising, but many of these attorneys are only out to collect huge fees from you. Do not use them unless you've also verified that they actually get results.
3) Choosing an attorney with ridiculously high, up-front, non-refundable "retainers"
Another unscrupulous practice some attorneys engage in is charging huge, up-front, non-refundable "retainers." That is, they will charge you large fees before they even consult you on anything. In practice, this means that you are paying through the nose to someone who really may not be the right fit for you, and even if you discover he's not the right fit, you cannot get your money back from. That's dishonest. Reputable attorneys will not lock your money up before you get a chance to reasonably evaluate them and make a sound decision.
4) Choosing an attorney without verifying his success or lack of success
Remember: attorneys are adept at manipulating words. A major reason attorneys become attorneys is that they are excellent communicators and have incredible persuasive power. This in itself is not bad; rather, it's how one uses those powers that matters. Unfortunately, many attorneys use those powers to convince clients to hire them - in spite of those clients never seeing the attorney's track record! Don't do that. At a bare minimum, you must demand to know an attorney's track record in the courts; how many cases he has won and lost, how long they generally took, etc. If you can speak to a few of his past clients (preferably at least one winner and loser) that's even better. In the end, none of the attorney's slick talking matters if he does not win in court.
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