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Guide To Hiring a Lawyer

There will be times in your life when you'll need to have legal representation. Having the right lawyer can help you resolve a dispute with neighborsend a marriage, enforce your rights in the workplace, or even avoid prison time. It makes sense to get a lawyer when life gets legal, whether it's a DUI charge or adoption. A lawyer is not necessary for all legal procedures, which is why FindLaw provides free legal information and do-it-yourself resources.

FindLaw's Guide to Hiring a Lawyer not only helps you determine when you should hire a lawyer, but it also helps you choose the right lawyer, understand legal fees, contingency fees, and retainer agreements, and get peace of mind. Lawyers can seem expensive, but not having legal counsel to provide legal advice and legal services can be far more costly.

Practice Areas of Law

Lawyers do not specialize in one type of law during law school. Once they begin working, they often specialize in one type of law or a few related practice areas. For example, one lawyer may only work on criminal cases, while another may handle a variety of personal injury legal matters. Some attorneys don't undertake litigation but serve transactional or advisory roles, such as estate planning. While qualified to represent clients in court, many in-house business attorneys rarely set foot in a courtroom.

Some well-known legal practice areas include the following:

Within these larger practice areas, attorneys may focus on one or more specific types of cases. A criminal defense attorney, for instance, may specialize in defending clients against DUI charges. A family law attorney may handle primarily divorce cases or custody disputes. A lawyer referral service sorts attorneys by practice areas so potential clients can find them easily.

Types of Law Firms

Another way to find a lawyer is through an established law firm. Law firms are often sorted by size, ranging from local solo practitioners to large, multi-state (or even multinational) firms with thousands of attorneys on staff. Small firms may employ between two and 10 lawyers. A small firm may have several types of lawyers on staff. If they focus on a single area of law, they may call themselves a "boutique" firm. Small firms offer the attention provided by single-attorney firms but with enough depth to cover a broader range of legal topics.

A law firm may focus on litigation (resolving legal issues in court) or handle transactional work. Probate and real estate firms are mostly transactional, while family and criminal law firms spend more time in court.

A self-help clinic may not have any attorneys on staff. These clinics offer legal information and help fill out and file legal documents. Some legal issues don't need an attorney's help, so you can save a lot of money by doing the paperwork yourself. These clinics may have a paralegal or legal assistant to answer questions, but you complete the forms and pay the filing fees yourself.

Initial Consultation

Many law firms provide free or reduced-rate initial consultations for prospective clients. At these first meetings, the attorney or paralegal asks about the case and answers any legal questions. The attorney may review fee agreements and discuss payment options with the client. Most attorney fee agreements work in one of three ways:

  • Flat fees are charged for legal services or small cases. Lawyers charge flat fees for traffic tickets, basic wills, or summary dissolutions.
  • Contingency fee agreements are usually signed for personal injury or other tort cases. In a contingency case, the attorney is not paid until the case settles. The lawyer's fee is part of the award or settlement.
  • Hourly fees are charged for most other legal work. The hourly rate depends on the size of the firm and who does the work. You can expect regular billing for hourly fees. With an hourly fee agreement, you may pay a retainer fee to begin representation.

The first time you meet with an attorney and discuss your case, you establish an attorney-client relationship. Any information you disclose to the attorney is privileged, even if you do not hire the attorney for your legal matter. This protection is known as attorney-client privilege. It prevents any attorneys you talk to from discussing your legal matter with other individuals, including other attorneys.

How To Find a Lawyer

When you have a legal problem, you need to find a lawyer. Finding a lawyer you trust doesn't have to be difficult. There are many ways to find reliable legal help if you know where to look. This article will take you through:

  • Things to consider while searching for a lawyer
  • How to find a lawyer
  • More things to keep in mind

Things To Consider While Searching for a Lawyer

There are a couple of things to keep in mind at the beginning of your search:

  • Where is the attorney's office? When you find a qualified attorney, you will visit the attorney's office more than once. The less traveling you need to do, the better. Also, local attorneys know local court rules and are familiar with judges and opposing counsel.
  • Does the lawyer have experience in your type of case? You may have already hired the best family lawyer in town for a previous divorce, but that doesn't mean they do estate planning or criminal defense. Ensure the lawyer you contact provides the legal services you need and has experience in that area of law.
  • Do you get along with your lawyer? After speaking with them, does the lawyer understand your goals? Do you feel comfortable relying on them for legal advice? Developing a good attorney-client relationship is essential for a good outcome.

How To Find a Lawyer: Your Options

There are many ways to find a lawyer. You need a way to find a good lawyer. Unfortunately, there are no ways to find which types of lawyers are good or bad. But these tips can help you find experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in your area and methods of sorting through them.

Personal Referrals

Friends and relatives are a great way to find a knowledgeable attorney. They have first-hand experiences with their attorneys and can give you insight into how they operate. If you need help in a hurry, for criminal cases or some emergency civil cases, personal referrals are ideal.

Your legal issue may be different than your family member's case. Even similar legal matters are different. But, the attorney may know another lawyer who can take your case. Attorneys regularly refer clients to one another.

FindLaw's Lawyer Directory

FindLaw's Lawyer Directory is one of several online legal directories that offer attorney listings across the U.S. As the premiere attorney search locator, FindLaw allows you to search for a lawyer by legal issue (e.g., personal injury, probate, elder law), location (i.e., state, county, city, and metro), and name.

FindLaw's directory helps you pinpoint relevant local attorneys and includes features to help you find the right attorney. It includes descriptions of the law firm practice area, easy links to attorney websites, and information about their background and experience.

State Bar Associations

State bar associations are a good way to locate a lawyer in your state. Most bar association websites contain listings of attorneys licensed to practice in the state. You can search for lawyers by name, location, and legal practice area. Some also allow you to conduct more advanced searches, such as finding a lawyer who speaks a specific language. County bar associations are another resource if you want a more localized search.

State bar association listings are not recommendations or endorsements. You should still research and come prepared to the first meeting to determine if the lawyer is right for your situation.

Volunteer Legal Organizations

Most states have volunteer legal organizations that can lead you to a lawyer. These organizations often include minority bar associations, legal aid societies, and law schools. They may focus on representing a specific type of client, such as low-income, or a particular practice area, such as immigration, public service, or family law. You can often access the names of volunteer legal organizations through a state's bar association website.

Legal clinics sometimes offer free legal help from volunteer or pro bono attorneys. These attorneys may have referrals to low-cost firms that can take your case. Most of these clinics can't take your case themselves. Free and low-cost/no-cost clinics usually provide legal assistance only, such as help with filling out forms and where you pay filing fees.

Lawyer Referral Services

Lawyer referral services can help direct you to nearby lawyers based on specific criteria, such as practice areas or legal services, such as immigration, domestic violence, or legal aid. Since lawyer referral services are like phone book listings, you may need more information about the lawyer's experience or qualification levels.


Advertisements about a lawyer's services may provide valuable leads to attorneys in your area. It's a good idea to do extra fact-finding to determine a lawyer's reputation and experience level in your area of law. Attorneys also have social media sites and blogs that offer general legal information.

While it doesn't hurt to contact a lawyer you find through an advertisement or other assistance program, you should have questions for your first meeting with the lawyer.

Internet Search

Getting legal help online is straightforward. But, not all websites and attorney directories are equal. Make sure that the attorney you find is local and qualified. You can check the state bar association to ensure the attorney you work with is in good standing.

You can also find other basic information about the attorney you are looking to hire, such as what law school they went to, their contact information so you can call or email to get information about the first consultation, and what local bar associations they belong to.

Final Considerations

Regardless of how you find your lawyer, the first meeting is important in deciding who you go with. At the initial consultation, you can discuss legal fees, such as whether your attorney will charge a contingency fee, hourly rate, or flat fee. Many law firms will also note in their listings if they offer free consultations to discuss your potential case.

Once you're ready to start contacting your list of lawyers, you may wish to read the following:

Once you have a potential attorney in mind, but before you sign any fee agreement, you have one more step. Research the attorney's discipline record and investigate whether the attorney can practice law. The state bar disciplinary board records whether someone sued the attorney for malpractice or a court sanctioned them or suspended their license. This is a step everyone should take before paying any retainer or other fee to an attorney.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help

If you have a legal problem, don't try to solve it alone. When you need legal help, meeting a lawyer near you is the first step to resolving your issue. Visit FindLaw's attorney directory for legal advice in your area.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney to make sure your rights and interests get protected.

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  • Is experienced in your type of case
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  • Understands your goals
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