|10 Tips: How to Choose and Interact with a Lawyer
A lawyer is a trained and licensed professional who explains and interprets the law, prepares documents, and
appears in court on the client’s behalf. Most important, a lawyer is a client’s advocate. To adequately advocate for
the client, the lawyer and client must develop a relationship. Lawyers must determine what types of clients they are
willing to represent AND a client must determine what type of lawyer it wants to represent him or her. Eliminate
some of the stress by choosing a lawyer you are comfortable with. To help with this decision:
1. Seek an attorney who practices in the substantive area of the law of the issue. For example, someone seeking
legal representation for a divorce, separation, prenuptial agreement, or custody issue should seek a lawyer
specializing in domestic law (also known as a family or matrimony law). Similarly, someone seeking to close on a
house would employ a real estate attorney, not an intellectual property office.
2. Seek referrals from people who are qualified to give the advice, such as friends and family members. This
personal advice and referral is an excellent beginning. If you cannot get a personal referral or the referral does not
work, consult the local referral agencies. In New Jersey's Essex County, the Essex County Bar Association has a
Lawyer Referral Service.
3. Research the lawyer’s background. Determine in what area the person has been practicing and the length of
time. (The state bar or board of bar examiners usually provides dates of admission.) Determine if the background
meets your needs.
4. Schedule consultations with various lawyers. Although lawyers hate it, shop around. There will probably be a
consultation fee, but it is worth the time and money. And, you will gain more insight into your issue and possible
remedies by having consultations.
5. Interview the lawyer during the consultation. Take a copy of the lawyer’s biography with you. Ask questions about
background or experience.
6. Discuss the cost of legal services during the first interview with the lawyer. Decide if you are comfortable with the
fee. The lawyer may not be able to determine the exact amount of time and effort required to handle your case, but
should be able to give you an estimate based upon past experience.
7.Get a signed retainer agreement. If the lawyer does not propose a retainer agreement, ask for one. It will help
you to understand what and how you are to pay. The retainer will state whether you are paying a flat fee (one fee for
the entire matter), an hourly fee (a specified rate for the time spent) or a contingency fee (a percentage of any
recovery obtained). The retainer should also specify any additional costs, such as court filing fees and
administrative fees such as photocopying, telephone, faxing, and mailing. Never hesitate to discuss the fee while
the lawyer is handling your legal matter. If you receive a statement and believe the fee is inappropriate, talk it over
with your lawyer.
8. Convey to the lawyer your expectations for your relationship. Lawyers are service providers. A lawyer cannot
meet your service expectations if she does not know what they are. Also, convey to the lawyer if the expectation is
not being met. The lawyer cannot fix a relationship problem if she does not know there is a problem. Most lawyers
want to know if there is a relationship issue. If they do not want to know, or are unresponsive to the issue, get a
9. Be prepared and forthcoming with information necessary for your case. (When asked, tell the truth, the whole
truth!! It may affect your legal matter.) Write down your expectation for the outcome of your matter and ask the
lawyer if the outcome is possible. If the desired outcome is not possible, what is your backup position? Provide
the lawyers with any necessary papers relating to the matter promptly. Be as accurate as possible when relaying
the facts of your legal matter.
10. Obtain legal advice before signing documents or taking legal action.
Disclaimer: These tips are for information purposes only. It is not legal advice and is not intended to create an attorney-client
relationship. Any decision to obtain legal advice should not be based solely on this information. Also, please be advised that
because of certain time limitations the law imposes upon anyone who wishes to pursue a matter, you should promptly consult with
a lawyer regarding your issue if you choose to proceed.