If you’re like most people, you do not have an ongoing business relationship with a lawyer, and may only hire an attorney a few times in your lifetime. So, when faced with a legal need, such as putting together a will, the task of finding and hiring an attorney can be intimidating.
Here are a few things to bear in mind when hiring an estate planning attorney:
Lawyers are not interchangeable. Just as a cardiologist wouldn’t set a broken bone, not all lawyers practice in all areas of the law. Unlike physicians, however, most states do not have specialty designations for attorneys. Unfortunately, there are some attorneys who claim to be experts in wills and trusts, but have little or no experience in this area of practice. If one of these attorneys offers to draw up a will or trust, he or she may not have the experience to be able to advise you on how to ensure your specific wishes are carried out.
When hiring an attorney, understanding precisely how you will be charged will prevent a big headache down the road. Lawyers generally charge one of three ways: by the hour, a one-time flat fee, or by contingency (percentage of the amounts recovered). Not every fee structure is permitted for every legal situation. For personal injury cases, most lawyers charge a contingency fee; for certain business transactions (such as incorporation), they’ll charge a flat fee; and for most other matters, they will ring up by the hour.
Notice the manner in which a lawyer’s staff treats you, in the office or over the phone, as that is often a reflection of how the lawyer practices. At a minimum, you should expect to be treated courteously and professionally both by the staff and by the lawyer. You should take the time to meet with several attorneys to get a sense of their communication skills as well as their expertise. While it is important to have confidence in an attorney’s professional abilities, compatibility should not be overlooked.
The attorney-client relationship is highly personal and based on trust, open communication and mutual respect.
Above all — trust your instincts and choose the lawyer that feels right to you.