October 14, 2004
The first step is finding a lawyer. In New Jersey, it may be harder to avoid lawyers than it is to find one. However, just any lawyer wonít do. You want to find the right lawyer for you and your situation.
Perhaps the best place to start is with a personal referral. Call me, your accountant, financial advisor, insurance agent or other advisor, relatives, and friends. Many lawyers are listed on various internet referral sites, such as New Jersey Lawyers Directory (http://www.njlawnet.com/newjerseylawyers), but remember that lawyers pay to be listed on these sites. Most county bar associations have lists of attorneys by specialty, but again, lawyers pay to be included on these lists and the bar association just gives you the person on the top of the list.
Once you have a few names, visit the attorneyís website if they have one. Look at their areas of expertise. With the complexity of the law and how rapidly things change, no one lawyer can be proficient in all areas. Be wary of an attorney who seems to do just about everything. Covering more than one or two areas of the law is fine, but their should be some connection. For example, an attorney who handles different types of litigation is fine, but you donít want someone who primarily litigates handling your business agreements or your estate planning. You also donít want someone like me trying to handle your divorce or personal injury claim.
The website may also let you determine how experienced is the attorney in the area you need. You may need to call or meet with the attorney to find this out.
When you meet with the attorney or call him or her, here are some questions to ask to help you in selecting the right attorney for you:
- How long have you been a lawyer?
- How long have you done this type of law?
- Have you handled any situations similar to mine (ask the attorney to tell you about it if they don't do so without prompting)?
- How can I reach you?
- What is your policy on returning telephone calls and responding to emails? Within 1 business day is reasonable.
- Do you have malpractice insurance?
- Approximately what is the turnaround time on documents or how long will this case take? It may be difficult to tell how litigation may take, but the lawyer should be able to give you a typical range, bearing in mind that your case may turn out not to be "typical".
- What are your fees?
- If hourly, what time increments do you bill in? 6 minutes and 15 minutes are typical. For example, at $200 per hour, if the lawyer bills in 15 minute increments a 5 minute telephone call is billed as .25 hours or $50 and an 18 minute call is .5 hours or $100. In 6 minute billing increments the same calls cost you $20 and $60, respectively.
- If you are quoted a flat fee, what is and is not included?
- How often, or when, am I billed?
- What am I charged for telephone calls, faxes, copies, postage, secretarial time, overnight mail? Other than overnight mail, I generally do not pass on the costs for these items unless there is a comparatively significant out-of-pocket expense.
- What decisions do you make and what decisions do I make?
Finally, you must decide whether you think the attorney has the experience you need, you are confident in their expertise, and you mesh in terms of personality.