Many people will go through life without hiring a lawyer. But when you need one, you need to get someone who has the knowledge and experience to handle your case professionally and ethically.
A lawyer performs many services for clients including:
- Legal advice and counsel: Lawyers are familiar with both substantive law and legal procedure. For example, if your business owns an airplane, you would talk to an aviation lawyer who can advise you on how to comply with FAA regulations.
- Legal representation: Your lawyer can act as your spokesperson with respect to your legal problems. Whether you need someone to represent you in court or negotiation, a lawyer can represent your interests.
- Legal advocacy: A lawyer does more than present your point of view. Your lawyer will construct legal arguments to persuade judges, regulators, and counter-parties in a negotiation to accept your legal position.
Once you understand what a lawyer can do for you, you probably appreciate how important it is to pick someone who knows and has a passion for the law that applies to your problem. Here are some ideas about how to know what kind of lawyer you need.
What Kind of Proceeding Is It?
The forum you are in and the type of proceeding can be key in how to know what kind of lawyer you need. This is particularly true if you are in litigation or a regulatory proceeding. For example, if you are facing criminal charges, you probably need a criminal defense lawyer. If you are facing a tax audit, you probably need a tax attorney.
If you are not involved in litigation or a regulatory proceeding, you may have a more difficult time knowing what kind of lawyer you need. For example, if you are negotiating for the purchase of a fleet of vehicles, you might turn to business law attorneys. If you plan to finance the purchase, you might need a commercial attorney to help you work with the bank to draw up loan documents.
On the other hand, if you are negotiating for the purchase of a piece of land for your office, you probably need a real estate attorney. Land transactions can become complicated because of the arcane rules for transferring land. If you need to negotiate a mortgage for you land, a real estate lawyer would also be able to help you with that.
Look at Lawyer Advertising
While it might seem like an oversimplified shortcut, one process for determining how to know what kind of lawyer you need is to think about the lawyer commercials you have seen.
Lawyers must comply with many rules about their advertising. One of the top rules for lawyer advertising is that the advertising must not be misleading. As a result, lawyer ads might be annoying, but they usually describe accurately the legal problems they can solve.
For example, everyone has heard a lawyer commercial on TV that starts, ‘have you been injured in an accident?’ One way how to know what kind of lawyer you need is to take these commercials at their face value. If you have been injured in an accident, you should consider contacting an auto accident lawyer.
You will generally find that this is also true for other legal problems. If you suffer from mesothelioma, you probably need a personal injury lawyer who focuses on asbestos exposure cases. If you need relief from debt collectors, you should consider calling a bankruptcy lawyer.
If you are at a loss of how to know what kind of lawyer you need, ask around. Family members, friends, and co-workers might have experience in your legal problem or know someone who had experienced your legal problem. They can tell you what kind of lawyer helped them deal with it.
Even more importantly, if you ask around, you might get a referral to a good lawyer who can take your case. While every practice differs, most lawyers get a majority of their cases from current clients, former clients, and referrals from current and former clients. Lawyer referrals also work in the opposite direction. If someone used a lawyer who did not perform up to their standards, they can steer you away from the underperforming lawyer.
For example, suppose you want to create a living trust, so your property can pass to your family without going through probate when you die. Talk to your family and friends, and you will probably find that they have their own living trusts. From these resources, you will probably find an estate planning lawyer who can advise you about wills and trusts.
Contact the State Bar Association
Lawyers are regulated by the courts. Most courts cooperate with a state bar association to help administer the regulations that lawyers must follow. So, for example, a lawyer who has broken the court’s ethical rules is investigated by the state bar association which makes a recommendation to the courts. The courts can then suspend or disbar the lawyer.
But state bar associations also provide resources to the public. Their websites usually include resources to learn about the law and lawyers. They also help potential clients find a lawyer who can help with their problems.
Most state bar associations have a lawyer referral service. But more importantly, calling the state bar’s lawyer referral service will put you in contact with someone who knows the various practice areas and can help with how to know what kind of lawyer you need.
In most situations, you would describe your problem to the state bar representative at the lawyer referral service. Sometimes, the representative might need to see documents. Based on your problem, the representative will probably give you a list of lawyers who work with clients having your problem.
Thus, if the Social Security Administration denies or terminates your benefits, you might have trouble figuring out what kind of lawyer you need. You can talk to the lawyer referral service for your state bar association about your problem to get a list of lawyers for social security disability cases.
Ask for a Lawyer
There is one circumstance where ‘how to know what kind of lawyer you need’ can be answered by simply asking for one. If you are arrested, law enforcement officers are required to give you a Miranda warning. This warning was created by the U.S. Supreme Court to protect a suspect’s right against self-incrimination. This is why police must tell everyone arrested that they have:
- The right to remain silent: This means that a suspect can refuse to answer questions from investigators and a refusal cannot be held against the person during trial.
- Anything they say can be used against them: This means that the right to remain silent can be waived.
- The right to an attorney: The right to a lawyer arises from both the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment’s protection of the right to counsel during trial.
- Appointment of a lawyer if you cannot afford one: These constitutional rights are so important, courts have decided that all criminal defendants, including poor ones, are entitled to a lawyer.
In most states, police are so concerned about their arrest and evidence being thrown out that they will stop questioning you and help you contact a public defender. The public defender is a free criminal lawyer who can represent you, at least temporarily, until the police finish questioning you.
If you meet the local court’s standards for being indigent, your public defender will continue to represent you. If you have the resources to hire a lawyer, your public defender will withdraw from your case, and you will need to hire a private lawyer. However, your public defender will probably be able to recommend a private attorney to step into your case.
Talk to Other Professionals
An underrated resource for figuring out how to know what kind of lawyer you need is to talk to other professionals. Accountants, doctors, and other lawyers can often help you identify the type of lawyer who can help with your legal problem. If you need to find a specific kind of lawyer or get a referral for a good lawyer, talk to professionals you know.
Often, this may come up in the context of your legal problem. For example, if you have been injured in a workplace accident, you can talk to your lawyer about finding a job injury lawyer. Doctors help people injured in accidents all the time and often need to send medical records to personal injury lawyers for insurance claims and lawsuits.
Orthopedic doctors and chiropractors often have referral relationships with personal injury lawyers they trust. In these relationships, personal injury lawyers refer injured clients to their preferred orthopedic doctors and chiropractors, and those doctors and chiropractors refer injured patients back to the personal injury lawyers. As a result, your doctor is often a surprising, but useful, resource in figuring out how to know what kind of lawyer you need.
Another example is accountants. Accountants run across many types of legal issues in their everyday practice including tax issues and bankruptcy issues. In fact, your accountant might be the first person you talk to about declaring bankruptcy. During this discussion, you can talk to your accountant about the kind of bankruptcy attorney you need for your case.
For example, some bankruptcy lawyers focus on business bankruptcies and do not handle personal bankruptcies. As a result, they develop the knowledge, experience, and connections needed to handle business bankruptcies effectively. Alternatively, other bankruptcy lawyers focus their practices on personal bankruptcies. These bankruptcy lawyers can help you pick the type of bankruptcy petition to file and collect the records needed to emerge from bankruptcy with a plan for repaying any remaining creditors.
Go to the Library
Another source of information is the library. A solid local library, or better yet, a law library at a local courthouse or law school, will have many resources to help you understand how to handle your legal problem. These resources can also guide you in how to know what kind of lawyer you need for your legal problem.
Family law, as one example, encompasses many different legal issues including divorce and child custody. It also crosses over with estate law. You might not know what kind of lawyer you need when you want to gain legal guardianship over an ailing parent with dementia. At the library, you can research whether guardianship is handled in family court in your state. This will give you some indication of whether you need to hire a lawyer who practices family law.
Talk to a Lawyer
It might seem redundant to talk to a lawyer to find a lawyer, but many law firms offer free initial consultations. This consultation is specifically created so you and the lawyer can make sure your case fits the lawyer’s practice. Do not assume that scheduling a free initial consultation obligates you to hire a lawyer. Instead, think of the free initial consultation as more of a date than an engagement.
An initial consultation gives you a chance to tell your story to a lawyer and receive some initial feedback. Sometimes, the feedback is that the lawyer cannot handle your case, but that the lawyer can refer you to someone else who can. Since this advice comes from a practicing lawyer, you can probably rely on its accuracy.
In a medical malpractice case, you might start with an initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer. Based on this consultation, you may receive a referral to a lawyer who focuses on professional malpractice. Without the initial consultation with the personal injury lawyer, you might have not found a medical malpractice lawyer.
Finding the right lawyer is not easy. But you can start by figuring out what kind of lawyer you need. From there, you can narrow down your choices and find one that has the qualifications, knowledge, and experience you need to have a fair shot at winning.