How do I find a lawyer?
Lots of people run into problems where they need a lawyer. Here are a few tips on how to find an attorney to help you with your legal issue.
Civil or Criminal?
The practice of law is generally divided into Criminal and Civil. Criminal usually means the police, sheriff, FBI, etc. are involved and you have been charged with a crime. Civil is generally everything else. This article will focus on helping you locate the right civil lawyer. Usually if the police are not involved then it’s a civil matter. Even if you’re a victim of theft, unless the police or district attorney are involved you need a civil lawyer to help protect your rights.
Figure Out the General Legal Area
Assuming you have a civil issue you need to figure out the area of law. There are too many types to list them all here, and other websites do a good job listing the general areas. But here is a good general list:
- Intellectual Property (patents, trademark, copyright)
- Personal Injury
- Real Estate
- Consumer (warranty, consumer protection, various Federal laws)
- Business disputes
- Family and domestic law
- Civil Rights
There are other areas, but you get the idea. You need to try to figure out what area of law. Generally attorneys will focus on a few areas and not do everything, which is the same for doctors and other professionals. The rest of this post will focus on lawsuits and it may not apply to processes like immigration or bankruptcy.
Figure out the Location
Lawyers are licensed (barred) by state. There are exceptions, but in general a lawyer can only work in states where they have a license or where they partner with another attorney that is licensed in the state where the suit will happen. If you live in Mississippi and the defendant is in Alabama then there’s a pretty good chance that a New York lawyer would not be able to represent you if he or she is only licensed in New York. There are a lot of things that will affect whether any lawyer can represent you, but a good starting point is to find a lawyer that is licensed in the state where you are. Sometimes you will need a lawyer licensed in the state where the defendant is if the dispute crosses state lines. Most lawyers in the right area of law will be able to guide you on this issue pretty quickly, but the point is that you need to quickly find out what state license your attorney needs. That way you don’t waste a lot of time calling people who cannot help you even if they wanted to because they aren’t licensed in the right state.
Figure out if you can afford to pay anything up front
Most people reading this probably cannot afford to pay an attorney hundreds of dollars per hour to take their case. But you need to figure out if you can pay anything or not, and if so what you can pay. If you cannot pay anything and you need the lawyer to help you on a pure contingency basis (which usually means they take a percentage of any winnings) then its best to cover that with any potential attorney before spending too much time on the details of your case. The lawyer may need to learn a little bit about the case before he or she can tell you if they will take the case on a contingency, but if you’re calling a firm that only does hourly work and you cannot afford hourly work then you’re wasting your time.
Get more details on your specific claim
If you can figure out the exact claim type (sometimes referred to as a cause of action) that will help you in searching online. For example our firm has a lot of clients who have banks deny their dispute when a fraudulent transaction shows up on the client’s bank statement. Usually these claims are raised under a Federal statute called the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA). So, for example, once you know that you have an EFTA claim it’s a lot easier to Google “EFTA lawyer” and find someone with experience on the type of claim you have. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but if you have an idea of your cause of action it helps you narrow down who you need.
Call and email
Lawyers are busy and sometimes they want more cases but they don’t have time to answer every call. Our firm tries to respond to as many calls as possible but we get way too many to respond to them all given our size. If you call and email you’re more likely to get a response from the firm. And if they don’t call or email back, move on. Don’t wait for a single firm to call you. If you have an important claim make 10 calls. If you get no answer make 10 more to 10 other firms. Keep trying until you find someone.
Hopefully this helps you find the right firm. Maybe Kneupper & Covey is the right firm if you have a consumer-related issue. If you’re not sure you can contact us to give us details. Good luck!