There are thousands of lawyers in Illinois. Don’t just pick a name from the phone book (or the internet). There is no such thing as the best lawyer, but there are definitely some that are the worst. Here are some qualities to help you narrow the field.
1. Practice area. Find someone who practices in the area in which you need help. Injured? Find an injury attorney. Bankruptcy? Find a bankruptcy attorney. This may seem obvious, but there are attorneys who will take any case that comes through the door. It can mean that they don’t have enough experience any one area.
2. Experience. Ten years of experience is a good benchmark, but there is no magic number. Again, those years of experience should be in the area of law relevant to your problem.
3. Location. For most cases, you’ll want an attorney who spends a lot of time in the courthouse where your case is being heard. They should know all the local rules, be familiar with the judges and their quirks, and have a good reputation among the other attorneys. All of these things can work in your favor.
4. Reputation. If an attorney is respected by colleagues, judges and the other people they deal with professionally, it’s a good sign. These relationships come in handy when negotiating on behalf of clients or arguing a case in court.
5. Resources. Are they part of a large firm? This isn’t always a requirement, but if you are involved in a complex and expensive case (medical malpractice is a good example), you want an attorney with a lot of resources. They should be able to pay the costs of your lawsuit upfront and not be tempted to settle because they need to get paid. If going to trial is in your best interest, you want an attorney who has the time, money and support staff to follow through.
6. Success. The definition of success differs from case to case. Not every case ends with one party winning and the other losing; often there is a compromise. In the end, success depends on whether the client was pleased with the outcome. Client recommendations and referrals from other attorneys are a good way to find this out.
7. Communication. Attorneys are notorious for never calling back. Don’t just accept this as the way it is. There are plenty of attorneys who call you back or answer an e-mail within 24 hours. Honestly, I think that should be the norm. Talk to previous clients about an attorney’s communication style. Ask the attorney how they keep in touch and when you can expect to hear from them.
8. Client reviews. If possible, talk to some previous clients for some insight. While the attorney can tell you about their fees, experience and past success, a previous client will be able to answer questions about whether they are trustworthy, kind and willing to explain legal issues in a way that makes sense to a non-lawyer.
9. Sensitivity. Some areas of law require sensitivity, like family law. If you get the feeling that your attorney doesn’t care, they probably don’t. In areas of law that involve a lot of emotion and personal conflict, attorneys can easily burn out. Keep looking for someone who can show you some empathy.
10. Your gut feeling. Always interview an attorney before hiring them. Write down questions you want to ask if you think you’ll forget. Ask about their resume, but also about how they handle cases like yours and what their strategy would be. Ask about fees and billing. Ask about communications. And in the end, trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking. You do not have to hire the first attorney you meet.
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