Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Lawyer

Before hiring a lawyer, it is most important to ask good questions to ensure you are choosing the right person for help with your legal issue. This article provides tips on how to find lawyers to interview and a list of questions to ask them.

How to Find and Select Lawyers to Interview

Before hiring a lawyer, it is always good practice to come up with a short list of prospects to interview. Doing so will allow you to understand what legal expertise and services they can provide and the legal fees they may charge. The following sources will help you compile a short list of lawyers to interview.

Personal Recommendations: People You Trust

The best way to obtain a reliable attorney referral is to ask friends, family and other professionals whom you already trust. Always ask about the relationship and experience this person has with the person they are recommending. Is the lawyer someone they have actually used for professional services or is the lawyer just a relative or friend that they know only on a personal level?

The State Bar Association and Attorney Referral Services

A state bar association in your area can provide you with contact information for several local attorneys and bar members. Legal websites and bar associations also have attorney referral services, a convenient method which allows you to leave your information and have a lawyer contact you. In both instances it is important to understand that these entities are only passing on your information to members of their legal network. They are not making any recommendations as to an attorney’s level of expertise or competence in solving your specific matter.

Lawyer Directories

You can search for a local lawyer in a lawyer directory, which typically include biographies, law memberships, notable cases, honors and awards. This information can help you decide whether the attorney may be the right fit. Some directories also contain attorney reviews, which may be helpful to some limited degree.

How to Interview a Lawyer: Questions to Ask

You can choose to interview a lawyer either on the phone or in person. A benefit of a face to face conversation is being able to see the lawyer’s demeanor and the manner in which they answer your questions. But before meeting with a lawyer, it is usually best to have a short conversation over the phone to determine whether it is worth the time and effort (and possibly the money) for an in-person meeting. It is best to write down the following questions and match them to answers you receive during the conversation.

Questions for the Telephone

  • Where are you licensed to practice law?
  • How many years have you practiced law and in what areas?
  • What type of cases do you most frequently handle?
  • Have you handled a case like this one before? What were the outcomes?
  • Is there a fee for an in person meeting or legal consultation?
    • If so, how much is the fee?
    • How long will it last and what will it cover?
    • What do I need to bring?
    • What are your legal fees for a case like mine?
      • Are they negotiable?
      • What legal costs would I be responsible for?
      • Who will be primarily handling my case? (The lawyer may be selling the services of the firm in general and another lawyer may handle your case. While the attorney may work on your case, it is also common to delegate work to associates (junior lawyers) and paralegals.)
      • Have you ever been subject to any disciplinary measure?
        • If so, why and what was the outcome?
        • Can you provide some names and contact information from previous clients?

Before deciding to make a trip to a lawyer’s office, you may wish to call your state bar association to confirm some of the contents of your discussion. You should ask the bar association (or search online if available) to determine that the lawyer is licensed to practice in your state and has not been subject to disciplinary measures (also known as being “in good standing” with the bar.)

Questions for an In Person Meeting

A face to face interview or legal consultation can help you get a personal feel for the lawyer’s personality and communication skills. You will probably want to have prepared a short summary of the facts and important dates that are relevant to your case. Also bring any paperwork and documentation that could have a bearing on your case.

  • What are your thoughts about the outcome of my case?
    • What are the chances I may win or lose?
    • What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
    • What is the likelihood of this case being settled or going to trial?
    • How long do you think this case may take, including if it goes to trial?
    • Have you had other cases like mine? How did those clients fare?
    • Please explain how your fees work and what my total bill might be.
      • Do you have a retainer fee (up-front payment)?
        • How much is it?
        • Does it need to be replenished?
  • Do I receive an itemized bill? (you have a right to the details)
  • How often will I be billed?
  • Will I have a chance to review and receive a copy of your retainer agreement?
  • Can you explain to me communication during my case?
    • Will you consult with me before taking any significant actions?
    • How often can I expect to hear from you regarding updates?
    • What is your current caseload like – will it be a challenge to handle my case?

Making an Educated Decision to Hire a Lawyer

Asking these questions to a lawyer will leave you with a better appreciation of the attorney’s competence and ability to handle your specific legal problem. It will also provide you with greater confidence by making an educated decision about legal services.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq.

Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com and former SVP of Zedge.net. He has published hundreds of articles online covering a variety of legal topics and regularly provides free legal advice at The Law Forums.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq. – has written posts on TheLaw.com Guide.