By William L. Baskette, Esq.
Choosing a competent lawyer starts with understanding yourself and your case. When you believe you need a lawyer, or you have been charged with a crime, do not ask friends for advice or for the name of a good lawyer. They will probably send you to the neighborhood attorney who represented someone they know, but who may not be the attorney for you. Look in the yellow pages and try to find a lawyer that advertises in your area of need. You may want to call the local Bar Association and ask for the lawyer referral program. This program is of benefit to you because the lawyers in this program are required to carry malpractice insurance and are generally a competent group of lawyers. Find someone who practices regularly in the area you need.
When starting out, make an appointment with one or two lawyers. Be sure to ask if there is a consultation fee, and don’t be afraid to pay a lawyer for his time and advice. When you meet with the attorney, see if he understands your problem from your point of view. Ask the lawyer to explain the theory of your case to you from his point of view. Ask him to evaluate the pros and cons of your case without generalities and legal words. Test him to see if he uses words you can understand, is interested in your case and does not start talking about fees before he talks about anything else. Finally, ask him about your options. You should know the choices facing you and you should be the one deciding which choice to select
Test his sincerity, his ability to answer fully and his level of patience. Then test yourself. Do you feel comfortable with him? Do you feel you can trust him? After you have reviewed your internal questions and answers about him, decide for yourself whether or not you want to hire him. He is your agent, and will be acting for your best interests. You are not under his control, but you should consider his counsel. You must always feel secure in your dealings with him and if you do not feel comfortable, you must make this clear to him. This may cause him to be more focused on your case and your needs. In the long run, it may help you win.
You cannot judge an attorney by the size of his yellow page ad or his popularity. Judge him by how hard he is willing to work for you and his expertise and experience. Ask the State Bar if he is an attorney in good standing. Selecting a lawyer who is a “certified” specialist in criminal law may be what you are looking for, but there are many lawyers who are highly competent but not “certified.” A certified attorney is one who has taken an exam and has participated in some trials to be a specialist in a given area. A former judge would be as experienced or more experienced than a certified specialist. Choosing a competent attorney is really not as hard as you might think if you would take the time to look.