First, look for someone who can
speak that rarest of languages -- "plain English".
Yes, lawyers lapse into legalese and utilize words like "utilize",
but you shouldn't need a Berlitz course to understand yours.
Find someone who can clearly explain your problem and outline
an intelligible game plan. Listening is an art. As family law
attorney and mediator Frances Fite puts it, "at the end
of a marriage, your relationship with your attorney is a close
it's crucial that your attorney find out what's important
to you, and ask the right questions."
Once you can understand an attorney, look for someone:
- With time for your case. Ask how many clients the attorney has. Ideally, your counsel will neither try to juggle 312 cases nor spend two hours a day playing computer solitaire.
- You feel comfortable with. Don't ignore intuition - you may see a lot of this person very soon. Educator Jessica Flowers, divorcing after a long marriage, knew what she wanted: a female attorney, and one who would act as a "consultant" rather than a dictator. Flowers brought a friend along to a two-hour consultation to get feedback from someone who wasn't emotionally involved in the situation.
- Who sends you an "engagement letter" outlining just what he/she will do (and not do) for you, and what fees will be charged, so you have a clear understanding of what to expect.
- Who sends detailed bills. You want that $2,000 bill broken down into hours worked, name(s) of attorney, type of work done (legal brief, interviews, phone calls, etc.) "Little things" like photocopying, faxing, long-distance phone calls should also be listed separately, not lumped together as $407 for "disbursements."
- Who treats you with courtesy and respect, and returns phone calls within a reasonable time.
- Who isn't already working for someone else connected to your case, causing a conflict of interests.
- Who will safeguard the information you share and the confidentiality of the lawyer-client relationship.
- Bonuses: Someone with a sense of humor whose office isn't in a strip mall next to the Dollar Delight, and who doesn't resemble Rumpelstiltskin.