There are many reasons why you might need to hire a lawyer, from purchasing real estate to launching your own business to getting a divorce. When these moments hit, it’s time to get a good attorney involved to help you sort out the situation.
However, hiring a lawyer can take some know-how, and if it’s your first time tackling this, you may need some guidance. Personal referrals may be a good place to start, but it’s also vital to work with an attorney who has expertise that’s relevant to your particular legal situation.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources that are available to help you find the right professional at the right price.
Here are some tips and tactics to help you navigate the process of hiring an attorney.
Finding the Right Attorney
Most lawyers concentrate in a few legal specialties (such as family law or personal injury law), so it’s important to find a lawyer who not only has a good reputation, but also has expertise and experience in the practice area for which you require their services.
Below are some simple ways to begin your search:
Word of Mouth Referrals
One of the best ways to find a lawyer is through word of mouth. Ideally, your family and friends may have worked with someone that they can refer you to. Better still if their situation is similar to yours.
But even if a recommended lawyer doesn’t have the right expertise, you may still want to contact that attorney to see if they can recommend someone who does.
You might consider asking your accountant for a recommendation as well, since these two types of professionals often refer clients back and forth.
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Local Bar Associations
Your local and state bar associations can also be a great resource for finding a lawyer in your area.
County and city bar associations often offer lawyer referral services to the public (though they don’t necessarily screen for qualifications).
The American Bar Association also maintains databases to help people looking for legal help.
Many companies offer legal services plans for their employees, so it’s worth checking with your human resources department to see if yours does.
You’ll want to understand the details, however, before you proceed. Some programs cover only advice and consultation with a lawyer, while others may be more comprehensive, and include not only advice and consultation, but also document preparation and court representation.
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Legal Aid or Pro Bono Help
Those who need a lawyer, but can’t afford one, may be able to get free or low-cost help from the Legal Aid Society. You can often find out who to contact by searching online and typing “Legal Aid [your county or state]” in your computer’s search bar.
Consider reaching out to local accredited law schools as well. Many schools run pro bono legal clinics to enable law students to get real world experience in different areas of law.
Nolo, for example, offers a lawyer directory that includes profiles of attorneys that clue you in on their experience, education, fees and more. (Nolo states that all listed attorneys have a valid license and are in good standing with their bar association).
Martinedale-Hubbell also offers an online lawyer locator, which contains a database of over one million lawyers and law firms worldwide. To find a lawyer, you can search by practice area or geographic location.
Doing Some Detective Work
Once you’ve assembled a short list, it’s a good idea to do a little bit of sleuthing before you pick up the phone.
This includes checking each attorney’s website. Does it look sloppily done or professional? Is there a lot of style but little substance?
By perusing the site, you can also get details about the lawyer or firm, such as areas of expertise, significant cases, credentials, awards, as well as the size of the firm. Size can actually be an important consideration.
A solo practitioner may not have much bandwidth if they have a heavy caseload to give you a lot of hand holding if that matters to you. However, their prices may be more budget-friendly than a mid-sized or larger firm.
While larger firms may be more expensive, they may have more resources and expertise that makes them the better option.
You may also want to make sure the lawyers on your consideration list are in good standing with the bar, and don’t have any record of misconduct or disciplinary orders filed against them.
Your state bar, once again, is a good place to get this kind of information. Some state bar websites allow you to look up disciplinary issues. The site may also have information on whether the attorney has insurance.
You may also be able to search the state bar’s site by legal specialty, which can help you confirm the lawyers you’re looking at really do have expertise in the area of law you need counsel in.
The Martindale-Hubbell online directory can be helpful here as well. It offers detailed professional biographies and lawyer and law firm ratings based upon peer reviews, which may help when choosing between two equally qualified candidates.
Asking the Right Questions
Many lawyers will do a free initial consultation. If so, you may want to take advantage of this risk- and cost-free way to get a sense of the attorney’s expertise and character. This is also a good opportunity to get a sense of the costs.
Whether you’re able to arrange a face-to-face meeting or just speak over the phone, here are some key topics and questions you may want to address:
• Do they have experience in the area of law that applies to your circumstances?
Further, you may want to get the percentage breakdown of their practice areas. If you need someone to help you with setting up a business and understanding business loans, for example, and that’s only 10% of what they do, that practice may not be the best fit.
• Do they work with people in your demographic? If the practice only represents high net worth clients, and you’re not in that income bracket, they could be a mismatch. You can also get a sense of their typical clientele by asking for references from clients.
• How much time can they commit to you? And, how do they like to communicate: phone calls? Email? Ideally, you want a lawyer who can make you a priority and is able to respond to your questions in a timely manner, rather than leave you hanging for days or weeks.
• What are the fees and how are they charged? This is an important one so you can budget properly, and it’s something to ask about whenever hiring a professional (say, a financial advisor). For example, they may charge hourly, or they may work on a contingency basis, meaning if you successfully resolve your case they get paid.
Also find out if they require a retainer (an upfront fee that functions as a downpayment on expenses and fees), as well as what is included in their fees, and what might be extra (such as, charges for copying documents and court filing fees). Ideally a lawyer will explain their fees and put them in writing.
You may also want to use this meeting or conversation to judge the lawyer’s character and personality, keeping in mind that chemistry counts.
The attorney you’re interviewing could have all the right credentials and awesome experience, but in the end, if their personality strikes you as a little prickly, or the vibe is off, even if you can’t exactly put your finger on it, you may want to trust your gut, walk away and keep searching.
Choosing an attorney is an important decision. As much as you want to just get on with what may be a challenging or stressful situation that you need legal help with, it’s a good idea to invest some time, cast a wide net for referrals, then create and carefully vet your short list.
Finally, you’ll want to have an open conversation with any lawyer you are considering to make sure you feel he or she is a good fit for you and that you understand, and can afford, all the fees involved.
Whether you’re looking for a lawyer to help you buy a home, start a business or facilitate any other life transition, it’s a good idea to get your finances in order as well.
One simple move that can help is to open an online bank account with SoFi. With a SoFi Checking and Savings account, you can earn a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), spend and save, all in one account.
Another perk: SoFi Checking and Savings doesn’t have any account fees to nibble away at your hard-earned money.
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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.
SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.
SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.
SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.
Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.
Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet..
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