Whether you’re hiring a lawyer to Divorce, to draft your will or defend you in court, it’s not a decision to be rushed into.
“Don’t just open the phone book to the yellow pages and pick the first lawyer, or the lawyer with the biggest ad,” attorney Anne P. Mitchell, who is also dean of cybersecurity and cyberlaw at Lincoln Law School of San Jose, says. “That’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t let alphabetical happenstance — or a lawyer or law firm’s willingness to pay extra for a big ad — be the deciding factor.”
Instead, contact a few different lawyers and have these questions at the ready.
1. What’s Your Experience?
An experienced attorney knows the ins and outs of the law process and specific areas of law — and will also have knowledge of local court systems, resources and connections.
“You want to ensure your lawyer has handled cases like yours many, many times,” Jason Savarese from Savarese & Associates, PLLC, in Gulfport, Mississippi, says. “Everyone has to learn how to do a new skill by repetition, but you don’t want to pay your lawyer while he learns and makes mistakes along the way while honing that new area of practice. Ask how many cases like yours he’s handled. Ask for examples with court case names that you can verify.”
2. What Percentage Of Your Practice Is Dedicated To This Area Of Law?
You don’t want a lawyer who dabbles in your practice area, or one who is unfamiliar with the issues, procedures and necessary contacts in the legal system to help bring your case to a satisfactory conclusion.
“I often have clients come to my office with denials that were previously handled by a lawyer unfamiliar with the disability litigation system,” disability litigator Andrew November from Liner Legal, LLC, in Cleveland, Ohio, says. “Sometimes, the past cannot be changed and simple mistakes that were undiscovered by the inexperienced attorney cannot be fixed. Those are the hardest conversations to have with a potential client.”
3. What Will This Cost?
Taking legal action can be pricey. According to a 2017 survey by Bankrate, the average cost of getting divorced in the U.S. is $15,000 per person. So you should definitely ask a lawyer what the total cost may be. Bear in mind that you’re likely to get a number that’s simply an estimate.
“Most lawyers cannot predict the total cost of a matter,” Savarese says. “I can give prospective clients an overview of what I plan to do and some anticipated responses from our opponents, but variables — for example, whether the opponent will respond to a demand letter or ignite it — are out of my control.”
What a lawyer can tell you is their hourly rate, which varies from around $100 an hour to $400 an hour or more depending on where you live. Expect to pay top dollar for an experienced metropolitan lawyer with expertise in specialized areas.
However, there may be room for negotiation.
“If your lawyer is less experienced on cases like yours but you feel comfortable with them as a person after speaking with them, they could charge you a lower flat fee or a lower hourly rate to compensate for their inexperience,” Savarese says. “That could save you money in the long run. Ask them what their normal rate is and how much of a discount they’d offer due to their lack of experience.”
Be sure to ask if a retainer fee is required and whether you’ll get part of that retainer back if your matter ends up costing less. Also, will the lawyer bill against the retainer? Alternatively, your lawyer could hold onto the retainer until the end of your case and bill you directly each month.
“These matters should be stated in writing in your fee agreement with the lawyer,” Savarese says.