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The process of selecting a lawyer should be based on reason not rhymes

Although some folks may be influenced by a catchy jingle along with a repetitive phone number when selecting an attorney for their case, most would agree that a more rational approach would be more prudent.

There are many fine attorneys and law firms in the Greater Rochester area who choose not to advertise to any significant extent. In order to find an attorney who would be qualified to handle your case, it is advisable to follow some basic common sense principles to locate the right attorney for your matter.

The first step in the process

Once you decide the type of attorney you need to hire for a specific matter, you need to develop a plan for the selection process. It shouldn’t be helter-skelter since you need to have an organized selection process.

It is also best to concentrate on locating an attorney within a specific practice area rather than contacting a general practitioner.

What information sources should I utilize?

Your friends and business associates may have suggestions and experiences with attorneys and that is often a good place to start.

The Monroe County Bar Association has a Lawyer Referral Service and, for a modest fee, you can arrange to have an interview with an attorney in a specific practice area who can provide you with a proposal for handling your matter including the cost of it.

The selection process

Once you have identified the practice area, you should then investigate attorneys within that practice area by reviewing their websites and reviewing those attorneys who are listed in The Best Lawyers in America or the Super Lawyers publications. Although there is no guarantee every lawyer listed in these publications is, in fact, a super lawyer or a best lawyer, at least it gives you an opportunity to identify attorneys who have been chosen by their peers or their own law firm.

It is important to interview at least three candidates. In those interviews, you will have an opportunity to know the steps the attorneys would take to address your specific problem and the cost of taking those steps.

If it is a litigation matter, you will want to investigate the track record of these attorneys and how many cases they have actually tried to a conclusion. Just as you would value the experience of any other professional, such as a surgeon, you want to have an attorney who has had ample experience in trying lawsuits.

Once you have narrowed your selection process, you should consider questioning the prospective attorneys in a number of areas, including the following:

  1. What is their plan in handling your matter and the expected time table for each step in the process?
  2. What is the projected cost of the matter and what are the hourly rates for the attorney who is being interviewed, as well as the associates and paralegals in the law office?
  3. Are alternative fee arrangements available? Are the prospective attorneys willing to consider a fee arrangement that is tied to the result rather than strictly the billable hour arrangement? In other words, are they willing to have some skin in the game so that their fee is based upon the success of their efforts? Although, a fee in a personal injury litigation matter is traditionally tied to recovery, whereby, the attorney is paid approximately one-third of any settlement or award that is recovered, that type of arrangement is usually not proposed in a business dispute. However, there is nothing to prevent having an alternative fee arrangement in a business dispute which ties the fees to the result.

Check references

In addition to the interview process, you need to obtain references from not only former clients and present clients, but also third parties such as accountants and bankers. You need to do your own investigation of these attorneys rather than simply rely on references who are expected to provide a favorable report.

Review of their cases

Since most decisions in cases are publically reported, you need to review those decisions to see what the courts have stated about the attorneys you are interviewing. Are there issues that the attorneys failed to articulate at the trial and then attempted to raise on appeal? Did the Appellate court criticize the attorney?

Once you select the attorney, you need to be careful in entering into the engagement letter and include an escape clause in it that permits you to terminate the relationship if you are dissatisfied with the handling of the matter.

Just because the attorney submits the proposed engagement letter to you doesn’t mean you are required to accept it. There may be provisions in the letter that need to be clarified. Be certain to clarify the provisions at the outset rather than a year after the relationship has started.

Michael R. Wolford, a partner with the Wolford Law Firm LLP, has been engaged in litigation for 47 years. He may be reached at (585) 325-8000 or mwolford@wolfordfirm.com.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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