Selecting a Baltimore Attorney to help you is an important decision. Not all lawyers are created equal. Lawyers have an ethical obligation not to take a case they can’t handle, either because of experience or time commitment, but it’s not always that easy. You wouldn’t allow a surgeon to operate on you without first looking at his credentials and asking some basic questions, right? Well, don’t hire an attorney without doing the same. Here are 6 questions to ask before choosing a lawyer to help you:
- How often do they handle cases like yours? If you think you need to file for bankruptcy, you will want an attorney who is a regular in bankruptcy court — someone who files cases every week, like William. Similarly, if you need help with an appeal, you want an attorney like Kelly who has written appellate briefs on a wide range of topics and regularly argues before Maryland’s Courts of Appeal.
- What is their success rate? Lawyers aren’t allowed to make guarantees of success, and many factors impact whether a case is a “success,” including the client’s own participation, but it is good to ask whether the lawyer has ever had a successful outcome in a case like yours. For example, if you’re considering a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, ask how many of the lawyer’s proposed plans are confirmed (and the reasons why the others were not).
- Will there be any unsuspected fees or expenses? Lawyers usually charge by flat fees, hourly rates, or contingencies (“you don’t pay unless we win”). No matter what the fee arrangement is, the lawyer should be able to explain what fees or expenses may arise and whether you will be responsible for them. In a flat fee arrangement, for example, you should know upfront exactly what it will cost for the lawyer to represent you. Unless there is some major change in the case, you should not be hit with unexpected fees or expenses.
- Will the lawyer you meet in the office be the one to handle your case in court? It’s fairly common for lawyers in bigger firms to have junior attorneys show up in court to represent their clients, especially in hearings such as the 341 Meeting of the Creditors in bankruptcy cases. But, if this isn’t the lawyer you’ve been working with or the lawyer who actually prepared your case, you may be at a disadvantage in court. At the very least, you may not feel comfortable with a person you’ve never met serving as your representative.
- Does the lawyer have enough time and resources to devote to your case? Before taking your case, a lawyer should be confident that he or she has the time and resources available to properly prepare your case. Some cases, such as negligence lawsuits, may require expensive experts, significant costs in exchanging discovery, and lengthy depositions for (potentially) years before trial. If a firm is taking your case on a contingency fee, make sure they have the capital to pay for those necessary expenses up front. And, if your case is already started and there are deadlines set, make sure that the lawyer can meet those deadlines. The court may not grant an extension just because you got a new attorney.
- What happens next? Does the lawyer have a plan for your case? Can he/she explain how they will walk you through the case and what they will do you after your case is done. Will they follow up with you? For example, if you file for bankruptcy, will your attorney help you check your credit report 6 months to a year after your bankruptcy to make sure everything is reported properly? Will they help you develop a plan to rebuild your credit?
Remember, your case is unique. You deserve an attorney who will treat you like a person and will treat your case like it is as important to them as it is to you. Choosing the right attorney is more than choosing the biggest firm, the lowest price, or even the attorney who has filed the most cases like yours. You need someone who will listen to you and make an effort to understand what’s important to you instead of trying to fit you into one of their pre-determined options.
Demand personalized help from a lawyer who truly wants to find the best solution for you, not for his/her bottom line.