Lawyers are people too and we all have different personalities, backgrounds, education and experience levels that differentiate us from other lawyers. Choosing the right lawyer can be a daunting process as it is your lawyer who is entrusted with matters that are extremely important in your life. It is of utmost importance that you are able to establish a working relationship based on trust with the lawyer with whom you choose to work. If I were choosing a lawyer for my own legal matter, the following three considerations would top my list.
1. Am I comfortable with this lawyer?
Particularly with family law matters, topics that will be discussed between you and your lawyer can be sensitive and will require candid and sometimes difficult discussions. If you are not comfortable immediately speaking with a lawyer then that lawyer is perhaps not the right one for you. In order for us to do our jobs well we need to understand your thoughts, your hopes, and your fears moving forward so that we are in the best position to be able to assist. Sometimes information that is not obviously relevant can help me in choosing what the best method of resolution may be for you. For example, someone leaving a relationship that was marred by domestic violence may not be willing or able to sit in a mediation session across the table from their spouse to negotiate property matters. Having that knowledge assists in crafting different negotiations or resolutions that will accord with each client’s individual needs.
2. Is your lawyer knowledgeable?
By this I mean not only does your lawyer have the requisite knowledge in the particular area of law for which you need assistance but is that lawyer able to effectively communicate their knowledge to you. It does not matter how much that lawyer knows of the law if you are not able to understand the information being provided. It is our job as lawyers to make sure that each client has all of the information they need to understand the pros and cons of any decision they make so that they can confidently be in charge and direct their matter by giving us instructions to follow. Having a complete understanding of the legal issue you face together with the choices and options at your disposal will give you the confidence you need to make decisions that affect your life the most.
3. Are the fees, other charges, and disbursements clearly communicated?
If you have that immediate comfort level and feel your lawyer is knowledgeable and able to assist you, you will likely be presented with a Contract for Legal Services or Retainer Agreement that will set out the terms of your working relationship. This document is an important opportunity for you to determine whether or not your lawyer is in fact a clear communicator and is completely transparent with respect to fees. Often lawyers bill by the hour. Meaning they will set their hourly fee, for example $400 per hour, and they will usually bill at 0.1, or 6 minute increments. A lawyer may request a retainer of $3000 or $5000 to cover those fees. Unfortunately, that is often the most information a client will receive. It is impossible to know how long that initial $5000 will last before it is exhausted and the lawyer asks you to provide a further retainer. Clients do not have a good understanding about how long steps will take on their matter. For example, does it take a lawyer ten minutes or two hours to prepare a Statement of Claim for Divorce? Having a transparent Retainer Agreement with specified fees and expectations allows you to budget and allows you to make informed choices about different options and the costs associated with each option you may pursue in your matter. Finally, the retainer arrangement is also an opportunity to understand the expectations you may have of your counsel. Lawyers should be prepared to commit to clients with respect to communication guidelines; for example, how quickly will an email be answered? How far in advance do appointments book? When will my phone call be returned? Asking all of these questions and more will help you choose a lawyer that is best suited to work with you and assist with your legal matter.