I provide free consultations for potential clients every day. In doing so, it has become quite clear people need some guidance regarding how best select a lawyer. I am seeing way too many examples of individuals with significant buyers' remorse after they chose to hire attorneys who simply do a poor job. In reality, there are a number of firms / attorneys in the Charlotte market that simply do a bad job. Unfortunately, the complex nature of the legal profession can make it difficult for the general public to decipher who such individuals are. Therefore, I wanted to offer a few suggestions.
1. Education: Yes, this actually matters. You need to look up (use the firm's website) and demand to know where every attorney in the firm went to law school. On the one hand, I don't want to make this factor out to be an absolute. However, this can be an important issue in this regard: If a firm employees any attorney from The Charlotte School of Law, I strongly suggest you do not hire that firm, period. Why do I make such a strong statement? In reality, the American Bar Association recently placed the school on probation. The February 2017 passage rate for students of this school on the North Carolina bar was an abysmal 25% for first time takers and and even worse 18% for repeat takers. This "school" has consistently sent people into the legal field who cannot pass the bar exam anywhere near the state's average.
So, How does this affect you? These students cannot get legitimate jobs upon graduating because they (a) attended a school with a terrible reputation, and (b) many of them cannot pass the bar. I practice law in Charlotte on a daily basis. I can count on one hand the graduates of this school I've met (who did actually pass the bar) who I believe are actually capable of practicing law effectively. Many local firms hire these graduates because they are cheap labor. You can rest assured, the work on your case does / will get passed off to the cheap staff. Is this who you are really paying to handle your case?
2. Who handles your case: This issue runs parallel with the first issue. I operate as a solo practitioner: I've spent enormous time / cost ensuring my firm is set up in a very efficient manner so I can address my clients' needs effectively. Most importantly: my clients pay for me to represent them, and that is precisely what they get. I don't send some inexperienced associate to court. I don't have an assistant doing all the work on my cases, making mistakes constantly. You, as a potential client, have a right to know exactly who is going to do exactly what on your case. Who is going to do the prep work; Who is going to appear on each court date; Who is going to communicate with you; etc. If you don't get clear answers to these questions, I highly suggest you move on. I further suggest you move on if a firm does not offer you consistency with this issue.
3. Experience: In the legal profession, experience matters; it's just that simple. This is a hard profession; you have to work (hard) at it to be good. My advice: if a lawyer has less than 8-10 years of experience, select another attorney. That sounds harsh, and yes I once had less experience. However, that at least gives you a general rule, and accounts for the fact that some individuals work harder at their profession. There is simply no reason to hire some kid working out of his house, who has no experience. Your case is too important.
4. Office location: A simply google search can provide the details of an attorney's location. If you talk to the lawyer, demand to know where you can meet him / her in person. Confirm he / she has a local office. Why does this matter? Many less-reputable attorneys work from their houses. They offer no office to meet clients. They do not incur the expense to present a respectable / legitimate presence, which may be needed later in your case for meetings, etc. These lawyers are often harder to locate due to the very fact they don't have an established office. Simply stated, demand your attorney present a respectable business presence that makes you feel comfortable.
5. The Consultation: Ensure you discuss the specifics of your case with the lawyer during your consultation. Does he / she actually have experience addressing this type of case? You should pay attention to look for specifics, examples, and references upon request. You should look for a conversational tone that fosters the gathering of information. Does the lawyer help you understand your problem, and start to explain a cost-effective / efficient approach to the issues? Here is a key: You're not looking for some shady guy who guarantees you a result; You also don't want the guy who just tells you what you want to hear. If you get a realistic consult, where an attorney tells you the pros / cons, provides a realistic assessment, a straightforward fee quote, and answers your questions directly, you should really consider that lawyer. The lawyer's job is not to be a magician; his job is to guide you through the legal process and help solve your legal problem effectively within the framework of the legal system. You're not looking for a used car salesman. Finally, don't forget to get a sense for how the firm / lawyer interacts with clients. For instance, I prefer to deal with clients on a first-name basis, as I have a ton of direct interaction with my clients. I find such helps my clients feel more secure as we navigate the legal process.
6. Fee: What role does the fee play? Let's be honest, money matters in all areas of life. You want the lawyer to tell you directly what the fee is, and how such is to be paid. If you have any questions regarding the fee, you're looking for the attorney to answer such questions simply and directly. One word of caution regarding fee shopping: the old saying "you pay for what you get" applies to this arena as with many other areas of life. I've learned in my personal life that saving a few bucks on the front end is rarely worth it. Do you really want your focus to be saving a few bucks when it comes to your legal matters?
There are numerous qualified attorneys in Charlotte. I have many colleagues that I respect greatly. As with any business, there are unfortunately those who case our profession in a poor light. My purpose of writing this article was to help some member of the public in their selection of a local lawyer. Hopefully, this information will help avoid some of the scenarios I seem to see unfolding more commonly.