By Kathi J. Smith, Esq.
If circumstances have required you to get involved in litigation, you may find the process of selecting an attorney to be overwhelming. There are, however, some steps you can take to make the selection process a bit easier.
First, you should consider hiring someone with significant experience in your type of case. If you have a real estate dispute, consider hiring an attorney who has knowledge and experience in real estate law. If you were sued by a former employee for wrongful termination, discrimination or wage and hour issues, hire a litigator with extensive experience in employment law.
Since you and the attorney you choose will be working very closely together, it’s important to choose someone with whom you feel comfortable. How long has the attorney been practicing law? Has the attorney ever handled a case like yours before? What was the outcome? How much are fees and how are they paid? Does the attorney seem like he or she is concerned about your case? Does the attorney seem knowledgeable about the area of law? Does the attorney articulate himself or herself clearly and effectively? Does he or she have a credible and trustworthy demeanor? Remember, a judge or jury may be making the same assessments down the line.
With respect to fees, most attorneys charge on an hourly basis. You will want to understand the fee structure and for which services the attorney will charge or not charge. For example, some attorneys charge for every phone call, while others do not charge for routine or quick calls. You should inquire as to the different rates charged by attorneys and ask if other attorneys in the office will also be working on the matter. Some matters are handled on a contingency fee basis which means the attorney will not charge you hourly for the work, but will charge a negotiated percentage of the recovery. In addition to the hourly or contingency fee structure, you should also be aware that many attorneys will bill for "out of pocket expenses" such as photocopies, court filing fees and cost of hiring experts and consultants. Again, depending on the strength of your case, you may be able to negotiate these terms. It’s also a good idea to find out how long the attorney believes the case will take. Obviously, many factors are beyond your attorney’s control, but you should be able to determine a general timeline and what type of resources the attorney will commit to your case. It’s also important to know how you will be kept updated throughout the proceeding. It can be very frustrating if your attorney does not keep you informed on the status of your case. Ask the attorney how he or she plans to communicate with you and how often you can expect a status report.
Choosing an attorney is a big decision. Before you decide to choose one based on the number of television commercials he or she runs, or the size of the yellow pages ad the firm maintains, it’s important to sit down with the attorney to make sure the relationship is the right fit for your case. The litigation attorneys at Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P., will be pleased to meet with you for a no charge initial consultation so that you can explain your case, ask your questions and make sure you are comfortable with our law firm. For more information, please call our Oxnard or Westlake Village office.