You’ve just realized that you need to hire a lawyer. Or you at least think that you might need to hire a lawyer. How do you figure out which lawyer to hire? There are various online resources which help you search for lawyers. When browsing through the lists of available attorneys (there are more than 90,000 licensed by the State of Illinois), it can be difficult to figure out who to choose. Here are some tips:
1. Select an attorney with experience in the appropriate area of law.
While lawyers in the State of Illinois are licensed to practice in all areas of law, most attorneys focus their practice on a few particular areas of law. For example, while the attorney that your friend used for their real estate transaction may be willing to represent you in your personal injury case, you are likely better served by finding an attorney who handles personal injury cases on a regular basis.
2. Consider geography.
You may want to hire an attorney close to your home and/or place of work, so that you can easily meet with your attorney in person. If your legal issue is pending in another location, you may want to hire an attorney in that locale, rather than paying the fees and expenses associated with your attorney needing to travel to represent you.
3. Check with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).
The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission is responsible for the administration of the registration and discipline of Illinois attorneys. The ARDC website allows you to conduct a “lawyer search.” There you can confirm (a) that the lawyer you are considering is licensed to practice in the State of Illinois; (b) whether there is a record of the lawyer having ever been disciplined by the ARDC; and (c) whether the lawyer maintains malpractice insurance. I cannot stress the importance of malpractice insurance enough. Lawyers are people and that means they can make mistakes. Maintaining malpractice insurance is a lawyer’s way of ensuring that their clients are protected no matter what.
4. Meet with the potential lawyer and ask questions.
You need to trust your lawyer. Not to mention that, depending on the nature of your legal matter, you may be working with your lawyer for several years, which will be much easier to endure if you also like your lawyer. And the best way to find out whether you trust (or like) a particular individual is to meet with them in person. At the very least, you should speak with the lawyer over the phone. When you do meet with the lawyer (be it in person or over the phone), you should ask whatever questions you have about your legal issue, the legal process, and how the lawyer handles that type of case. If the lawyer does not give you time to ask your questions, or if you are not comfortable enough with the lawyer to ask your questions, then you have not found the lawyer for you.
You should feel free to ask the lawyer for the names of former (or current) clients that you can speak with. Note that the lawyer may prefer to provide your name and number to a few former clients to call you (rather than you calling them out of the blue). Either way, every lawyer should be able to provide references upon request.
As a final thought, if you do know a lawyer, even if they are in the wrong geographic region and even if they focus on a different area of law, you should absolutely consider contacting them to ask for a referral to an attorney in a convenient location who focuses in the applicable area of law. However, you should still follow steps three (3) and four (4), above, prior to signing any legal representation contract.