Ask the Experts

Legal Legwork

I’m interested in attending law school, and apparently this has made me the “go-to” expert on all things legal for my family and friends. I have a friend back home who needs a lawyer, and he asked me how to find the best one. Despite my intentions to enter the legal field myself, I have no idea how to find a good lawyer other than knowing someone who knows someone. I don’t want to tell him I have no idea, but I also don’t want to give bad advice. How does a person go about finding a good lawyer?

Lawyers aren’t like doctors–most people don’t have one they meet with regularly. Your friend sounds like most people. Although you may not be able to recommend a specific lawyer to him, there are some resources you can point him to in order to help him find a lawyer that best fits his specific needs and his budget.

There are a few things your friend should narrow down before he starts looking for a lawyer. First, what kind of legal issue does he have? Most lawyers now have a particular focus for their practice, whether it’s divorce, immigration, workers’ rights, or insurance claims. Bigger law firms may have practice groups within their firms that specialize in certain areas of the law. Once your friend has narrowed down the area of the law he needs help with, he should narrow down the jurisdiction. Lawyers are licensed by state, which means that they usually (with a few exceptions we don’t need to go into here) practice in one state. Your friend should likely focus on finding a lawyer who practices where he lives.

The American Bar Association has a helpful guide on how to choose a lawyer. It also brings up an interesting point, which is that your friend will likely use the Internet to try to find a good lawyer. Many law firms and solo practitioners now have their own websites that describe their legal practice and services and provide information about how to contact them and see if their services are a good fit. Your friend can use a combination of Internet searches and the ABAs lawyer referral directory to narrow down his choices. The state he lives in may also have a referral service.

Once your friend has found a few lawyers he is interested in potentially hiring, he should look closely to see if the lawyers offer free consultations for potential clients. Many attorneys will talk to potential clients free of charge to determine whether a case is a good fit for them. In addition to speaking to a potential attorney over the phone or–even better–in person, your friend should carefully look through the firm’s website to determine the scope of their services and if the firm presents itself professionally and is easy to contact. A good website is not a guarantee of good services, but an easy-to-navigate website that has plenty of information is a sign that the firm has made an investment in providing resources for potential clients.

“The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every calling, is diligence.” — Abraham Lincoln

Dennis Cook is a Software Engineer and Data Science Instructor at General Assembly.