Maybe your first big contract for your small business just came in and you need an attorney to review the legal mumbo-jumbo. Maybe your landlord has threatened to kick you out, but you think he’s violating the lease agreement and you need a lawyer to back you up. Or maybe your teenage son just crashed into the neighbor’s fence and you need someone to give you legal advice. Whatever the reason, you know you need a lawyer — but how do you find the right one? Let’s look at some options.
The Old-Fashioned Way
Many people find a lawyer by asking for recommendations from friends and family. While this works for many people, keep in mind that the lawyer your friend recommends might not have experience with your legal problem. You don’t want a criminal defender reviewing your first big business contract. When reaching out to friends and family, ask them what kind of legal problems the lawyer specializes in to see if they will be a good fit.
Online Tools to Find a Lawyer
Sadly, there’s no Yelp for lawyers. Though many websites include a rating system, the ratings are mostly unreliable; lawyers convicted of serious crimes may have the same rating as top-flight lawyers arguing in front of the Supreme Court, so for the most part, ignore the ratings.
Despite the lack of reliable ratings several websites make it much easier to find a lawyer who specializes in solving your legal problem. Some of these include:
- Lawdingo: Lawdingo helps you find and book their lawyer online — and distinguishes itself from its competitors by allowing you to receive an immediate call from an attorney just by submitting your phone number.
- Avvo: Featuring an easy-to-use interface that allows you to search by state or specialty, Avvo offers an impressive directory of lawyers. However, it’s not clear whether all the lawyers on the site are actively looking for clients, or if they’ve just been auto-populated from publicly available attorney directories. Also, as mentioned before, be careful about the reliability of lawyer ratings on any website.
- Lawyers.com: Lawyers.com helps you find lawyers near you. Enter your problem and your zip code and they’ll produce a large list of lawyers along with links to their website and telephone number.
- Martindale.com: Many lawyers include their information on Martindale.com, providing you with a huge list of lawyers in your area. That being said, the interface can be a hassle; it took us about seven clicks to find a list of attorneys nearby specializing in our practice area.
- Priori Legal: Priori Legal is an up-and-comer in the industry, providing users with discounted rates for highly-selective lawyers. Priori Legal interviews all of the lawyers featured on their website and requires that they have at least five years of experience. Right now, unfortunately, they only serve New York.
- UpCounsel: UpCounsel provides a unique feature for small businesses: a list of outside general counsel that can provide legal advice on long-term projects. Like Priori Legal, UpCounsel requires that you set up an account before seeing any of the contact information for their attorneys, though you can still browse their attorney listings before signing up for the website.
- FindLaw: FindLaw offers an extensive directory of attorneys searchable by practice area and location.
- The ABA Lawyer Referral Directory: The American Bar Association, in conjunction with state and local bar associations, offers attorney referrals. Typically, you will describe your needs via online form or over the phone, and someone in your local bar association will connect you with an attorney based on your needs. There may be a small initial consultation fee. Bar associations offer the closest thing to an “official” attorney referral service, and are a good resource for finding reputable, qualified attorneys.
As you browse these websites, make a list of several lawyers in your area that specialize in solving your legal problem.
What to Do Once You Make Your List
Don’t hire the first attorneys at law you find online! Follow these steps once you’ve identified a few possible candidates:
- Request a free initial consultation. Many lawyers will agree to meet with you for free to hear your legal problem and to outline how much it might cost. Make sure to ask for this free initial consultation — otherwise you might get stuck paying fees to a lawyer you don’t end up hiring.
- Prepare to meet and ask the right questions. Before the initial consultation, prepare any materials that might help the lawyer understand your problem (e.g. your first big contract, your landlord’s lease agreement, photographs of your son’s crash) and write down a list of questions for your lawyer. What experience do they have with this kind of legal problem? How many years have they been practicing? How often will they reach out to you to update you on progress? Don’t be shy — you will be paying for their time, so make sure you know what you are buying.
- Ask about their rate and try to negotiate a flat fee: Many lawyers charge an hourly rate for their services, which can add up to thousands of dollars for even the smallest problem. Try to negotiate a flat fee with your lawyer to avoid out-of-control legal fees. If the lawyer insists on an hourly rate, consider negotiating for a price ceiling. Price ceilings protect you from paying more than the problem’s worth — you don’t want to pay an attorney $5,000 to negotiate a damage settlement when the damages would have only cost you $3,000.
Finding a lawyer can be stressful, especially when a legal problem arises out of the blue. But there are resources that can help. Doing your homework is essential — both in searching for a lawyer and preparing for your initial meeting.