Most people don’t look for a lawyer until they need a lawyer. Unexpected events such as automobile accidents, on-the-job accidents, or other injuries lead many people to seek out the best attorney they can find to represent them. Although there is no shortage of attorneys, figuring out who to hire can be a challenge. Television advertisements and junk mail solicitations are certainly one way to decide. A better method would be to evaluate the qualifications of the attorney you are considering before signing any paperwork.
#1 How long have you been licensed to practice law?
Length of time an attorney has been practicing does not always translate to a higher level of skill. However, the longer an attorney has been in practice, the greater likelihood they will have the knowledge necessary to handle your case.
#2 Have you ever handled a case like this one before?
There is no requirement that an attorney has any prior experience in a particular matter in order to hold himself out as a “personal injury attorney” or “Workers compensation attorney”. The North Carolina State Bar does offer certifications in certain areas, such as Workers’ Compensation, allowing an attorney to advertise that he or she “specializes” in a particular area. However, specialization is not required in order to practice in these areas.
#3 How many cases like this have you litigated?
Let’s face it, a major advantage in hiring an attorney is having the ability to litigate a claim, if it cannot be settled. If an attorney has no litigation experience, you may find yourself at a disadvantage later in the case. An attorney with a weak trial record may be reluctant to file suit when necessary and may recommend settlement of matters that should be pursued through the courts.
#4 Will you be available to speak with me personally?
When former clients are surveyed about their satisfaction with their attorneys, the most frequent complaint raised is their inability to speak with their attorney. Get a commitment from the attorney that they will be available to speak with you about any questions or concerns during the course of your representation.
#5 What are your fees and will I be responsible for any costs?
This seems like an obvious question to ask but you want to avoid any surprises. Most fee agreements are pretty straightforward. An attorney may work on a contingency fee, in which the attorney’s fee is contingent upon recovery in the case. However, normally these contingency contracts provide that the client is responsible for certain costs in addition. These costs can include litigation filing fees, medical records copy fees etc. These costs can be advanced by the attorney, but the client may ultimately be required to pay these out of any settlement or judgment.
Finally, do your research. Once you have decided to hire an attorney, look them up on the internet. The North Carolina State Bar maintains a search engine that allows anyone to look up an attorney for any disciplinary actions taken against them by the Bar. In addition, there are a number of websites, such as lawyers.com, that allow the user to search by practice area and geographic area for an attorney. These websites also provide both client and peer reviews from other attorneys that may be useful.
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