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Hiring a Lawyer: Questions to Ask

Questions to Ask a Lawyer

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If you need a lawyer, it's important to hire the best lawyer for your matter, and for your personality type. Generally, this means that you’ll be looking for a lawyer who practices in the same area as your legal matter. But it’ll also mean that you should be able to afford their services, are comfortable with their experience in handling matters like yours, are geographically proximate to one another, and are comfortable with their personality.

Once you've narrowed down the list of candidates, the next step is to have an initial consultation with some of your top choices. LawyerSelect’s Questions to Ask a Lawyer section provides guidance about interviewing a lawyer before hiring him or her and how to research the disciplinary record of an attorney.

Interviewing a Lawyer

We cannot overstate how important it is to interview the lawyers that you’re considering before hiring them. This is the most important step in the lawyer-hiring process, because it’s where you’ll make important assessments and observations on their experience, their communication skills, their personality, and their fees. The interview takes place during the initial consultation, which most lawyers provide free-of-charge, or for a reduced fee. Make sure to confirm beforehand if the consultation is free, and if so, whether there are any time limits. The structure of the initial consultation is usually less formal, but you may be required to provide identification. During this meeting, the lawyer will ask you about your legal matter, and you should be prepared for this by bringing with you any relevant documentation or contact information. It also wouldn't hurt to summarize your legal matter in writing beforehand, so as not to forget any relevant points that are pertinent to your matter. 

One of the first things you'll want to ask a lawyer is about his or her fees. It's important to know what you will be billed for and what payment options the lawyer provides. This is an important question because it will allow you to determine if you can afford the lawyer's services. 

The most common fee-structures are the hourly tariff, and the block-fee. Under an hourly tariff arrangement, the lawyer will typically ask you to provide him or her with a lump sum amount, known as the retainer deposit, which they'll place into their trust account. Every time the lawyer works on your matter, they'll record the time spent, and once the bill reaches a certain amount, they'll withdraw from the funds of the retainer deposit until those funds are exhausted - at which time, you'll be asked to provide a further a sum. Conversely, under the block-fee arrangement, the lawyer's fees are capped at a specified sum. So regardless of the amount of hours spent working on your matter, the lawyer will not bill you for an amount in excess of the block-fee. However, the amount of the block-fee can be quite high, and you may not be able to pay it all at once. As such, you should inquire with the lawyer whether they'll accept periodic payments by you towards the block-fee amount. For example, if the block-fee is $10,000, you may want to arrange for a payment plan like $1,500 a month.

It's also a good idea to ask the lawyer about his or her legal career. It's good to know how many years the lawyer has practiced law, and what type of cases the lawyer generally handles. It would also be helpful to know who the lawyer's typical client is. For example, if a lawyer usually works with businesses and you're an individual, the lawyer might not be the right one for you. It can be helpful to ask if the lawyer has represented cases similar to yours, and what the outcomes of those cases were.

Some other very important questions are:
·     What is the range of possible outcomes for your case, including rough estimates of time and cost? Based on your brief description of the problem, your lawyer may be able to provide some general estimates.
·     Will the lawyer handle the case or will others work on it also?
·     What type of caseload does the lawyer currently have? What is the scope of the lawyer's existing commitments? Will the lawyer have sufficient time to devote to your case?


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