CHOOSING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY
By Daniel J. Hebda, Esq.
Choosing the right attorney can make or break your case. After you have chosen to hire a lawyer, the homework you do before you hire can not only save you valuable money and time, but also get you optimal results. When it comes time to choose, consider a few key questions.
“What will it cost?” The cost of your future legal representation is a threshold issue but should not be the only or driving factor. You want to make sure that you speak with potential attorneys knowing what you can afford and quickly finding out what a case might cost. Setting these financial parameters up front can easily help you find representation with which you feel comfortable. However, free (pro bono) or reduced fee representation comes with some hidden costs since such well -meaning attorney will probably not put the case or matter as high priority and may not be specialized or competent to handle the matter. Moreover, larger firms with larger overheads will need to charge larger fees although you may be able to get as good or better representation with more boutique firms. At Simms Showers, we will only take cases where we think we can clearly help the clients within our expertise and experience. We also try to set clear financial expectations, coupled with possible legal outcomes and risks, from the beginning. Legal costs can escalate very quickly and you should have a reasonable understanding of what you might expect to pay during the life of your case if not a fixed or contingent fee.
“Am I getting the knowledgeable representation I need?” As a balance to finding representation that fits your budget, the old adage “you get what you pay for” often applies to the field of law. Not all attorneys are created equal, and while many attorneys may be able to quickly figure out your case and represent you well, experience and specialized knowledge is crucial for making the most of your money spent on an attorney. For example, a competent attorney who does not specialize in family law or traffic cases may be able to figure things out and represent you well, but may take much longer and even miss out some strategic loopholes or shortcuts in the legal process that a more experienced specialist in that field might be able to find quickly and use to your benefit. Similarly, you wouldn’t want a domestic and family law specialist filing the articles of incorporation for your church, or trying to get tax-exemption for your new non-profit. Law is not a generalized practice. Lawyers are trained to think and problem-solve in similar ways, but they all have different specialties. In highly nuanced areas of law, like domestic law or non-profit, church and tax-exempt law, that specialty (or lack of specialty) can make or break your case. At Simms Showers, we have seen far too many clients stuck in a tough litigation spot due, in part, to previous work done by fully competent attorneys who simply lacked the specialty that would have set the client up for future success.
“Am I getting organized and timely representation?” Getting optimal results in the legal process is significantly influenced by an attorney’s attitude and organization. Legal representation is often a scary, stressful time for clients, and attorneys are paid, in part, to shoulder that stress themselves and provide peace of mind for their clients through organized, timely, and gracious interactions with their clients, with the courts, and with opposing counsel. While maybe not as critical as a specialty, these qualities go a long way in making an attorney effective in getting the right results. Does your attorney truly care about your case, you and has the organizational skills to be effective? At Simms Showers, we find that many of our cases come to a resolution that is best for our clients simply because we drove the case forward in a timely and organized fashion, or even because we established good rapport with the judge or opposing counsel.
“Am I asking the right questions of my potential attorney?” Don’t be afraid to ask honest questions of any attorney you interview. Ask how much they charge, and how they charge it. Ask if they have experience with cases like yours, and ask them to describe their experience. Ask them to describe the process for handling your case, and what you should expect. Ask them why you should choose them over other attorneys. Good attorneys will not be afraid to answer these questions honestly, because they know that these things will form the basis for a trust-based representation relationship in the future.
In the end, you hire an attorney to be your representative. An attorney-client relationship is a one-of-a-kind relationship. It is not a friendship or a simple business relationship. It is not a provision of services or a product, but it is also not an employment or contractor relationship. An attorney-client relationship has unique elements: 1) Closeness balanced with trust; 2) Control balanced with independence and 3) Complete truth for effective representation. You will experience few other relationships like it. You owe it yourself and to your case to invest time in finding the right attorney for you and helping your attorney get the best results for you.
Legal Disclaimer: This Article and related material have been prepared specifically for non-profits and churches seeking general information. It is not meant to provide legal advice or substitute for competent legal counsel that can address specifics of each non-profit or church. Any reader is encouraged to seek appropriately trained and experienced professional legal counsel specializing in corporate, tax-exempt, and church law for questions on or related to these issues, and you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.