Hiring a lawyer can be an intimidating process. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by confusing legal terms and the various service arrangements attorneys provide. Money, the urgency of your legal issue and a lack of time can also play a role in the decision. Since individual lawyers and law firms have different styles, it’s essential to gain clarification on these issues before determining which firm or attorney might be a good fit for you. Here’s a closer look at the steps you should take if you’re considering hiring an attorney.
Before the Meeting
Consider these questions before you meet with a prospective attorney:
• What kind of lawyer do I need? Not all lawyers are the same. Does the lawyer have experience with the type of legal issue you need help with? If your case will require a court hearing, make sure that your lawyer has trial experience.
• How much can I afford to pay? Some lawyers require a retainer in advance. It’s like a security deposit that lets the attorney begin working for you. If you are not prepared to pay an up front fee, make sure you communicate that before signing an agreement.
• What kind of personality do I want from my lawyer? Are you more comfortable with someone who is down to earth or someone who is all business?
• How much communication do I need? Do you want frequent in-office meetings with the attorney or just an occasional update via email or telephone?
• Do I want to resolve my case quickly, or do I want to go all the way to trial? Some people are determined to get the judge’s decision or a jury verdict, but going to trial can take much longer than settling out of court. How long are you prepared to wait for a decision?
• Does the prospective lawyer have a professional disciplinary history? Contact the Colorado Bar Association or the Colorado Supreme Court to make sure your lawyer is properly credentialed and with a license to practice in good standing.
• What type of experience and education would I like my lawyer to have? Is your case a matter of family law or business law? Is it criminal or civil litigation? Confirm that your attorney has specialized education and training in the area you need.
Getting to Know the Attorney
Once you’ve answered these questions, the next step is setting up a consultation. That’s your opportunity to interview the attorney and get a sense of his or her personality, working style, and communication approach. During the consultation, ask yourself the following questions:
• Am I comfortable with the lawyer’s personality and demeanor? Does he or she have a professional appearance? Is the lawyer polite to office staff?
• Do I understand what the lawyer is telling me? Does the lawyer take the time to answer my questions and talk with me in a respectful way? How does the lawyer like to communicate (for example, by telephone, email, etc.)?
• What kind of billing options does the lawyer offer? Will it fit within my budget?
• What if my case requires more support than one lawyer can provide? Does the law firm have other lawyers and administrative staff to manage my case efficiently? Is this lawyer familiar with the court, judge, and other lawyers involved in my case?
After the Meeting
Review your impressions of the attorney. Did he or she seem well-informed? Did they provide any advice during the meeting and did they provide legal support for that guidance? If you decide to move forward, you will likely be asked to sign a representation agreement. Make sure you read the agreement carefully and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand anything. You are also free to seek a second or even third opinion.
You can also locate attorneys through lawyer peer-review websites, such as avvo.com, martindale.com and other legal industry sites. Be warned, however, that some sites may not be particularly objective and may rely upon reviews and recommendations of other individuals. Another resource is the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation, which tracks any disciplinary action taken against attorneys practicing in Colorado. You can search for attorneys at the office’s website, coloradosupremecourt.com and through the Colorado Bar Association’s Find A Lawyer tool.
James Garts leads the Robinson & Henry family law practice in Denver. With over 13 years of experience, Garts oversees a dedicated team of attorneys and support staff with one goal in mind: obtaining the best possible outcome in a difficult family situation. He began his legal career in Memphis, Tennessee and initially worked in a variety of legal areas ranging from criminal law to medical malpractice defense. A graduate of Colorado College, he was lured back to Colorado by his love of the state in 2006. Garts is an active volunteer with the Colorado Bar Association and has been the chairperson of both the Young Lawyers Division and the Membership Services Committee, as well as a member of the CBA Economic Task Force. He served a term on the CBA Executive Council and was the young lawyer liaison to the CBA Board of Governors. At the local bar association level, he was formerly appointed to the 1st Judicial District Board of Trustees and, for a time, served as its liaison to the CBA Board of Governors. He is an avid road and mountain bicyclist and supports trail conservation and common-use efforts.
James Townsend is the lead family law attorney at Robinson & Henry’s Castle Rock and Colorado Springs offices. For over a decade, he has worked in the Colorado court system, navigating families through legal issues with compassion and integrity. His career began auspiciously when, as a law student, he was able to work on a case that went to the Colorado Supreme Court in 2007. Co-writing the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in In re Adoption of C.A., 137 P.3d 318 (Colo. 2006), Townsend’s pivotal role resulted in changes to the grandparent visitation law in Colorado. It is the case that still defines the standard for grandparent visitation today. Townsend has lived abroad in Mexico and Brazil and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. He enjoys camping and hiking in Colorado’s amazing mountains.