So you have a legal problem. How do you find the right lawyer? As with just about anything, knowledge is your best ally. Unfortunately, not everyone has great amounts of time to find an appropriate match.
Here, we provide the following list as a shortcut. Check out the advice and websites listed here, and you should be on your way towards being well-represented. In the interest of full disclosure, entries that have an asterisk are the ones the writer currently uses personally.
1. Personal Referral – This is probably the best way to find an attorney. If someone you know very well can refer someone to you, you will have the benefit of already knowing a great deal. Through your knowledge of your friends and their knowledge of you, such a recommendation takes what you like and dislike into consideration. Other trusted professionals like your accountant or financial advisor can also be a good source of a recommendation, as they have more regular interaction with lawyers. If you ask several people for a suggestion and the same names keep coming up, all the better for you.
2. Local Bar Association – Look to your state, county or city’s bar association. Most have referral services that give you the name of a local practitioner in your area of need, and each will give you a free or inexpensive consultation for around a half-hour. However, be aware that the more experienced lawyers may not join this service due to their ability to attract regular referral business. You can find your local bar association by Googling “’Your County’ bar association” or through the American Bar Association.
3. National Networks – National groups of attorneys in similar practice areas have created national network memberships. They consist mainly of solo practitioners and small firms who exchange ideas with the sometimes hundreds of other lawyers in the group. Members may sometimes pay significant fees for inclusion, but usually after an application process. In the estate planning arena, the three most prominent networks with fairly large memberships are Wealth Counsel, the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys, and the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.
4. Legal Search Websites – Several websites offer free access or helpful articles about the law. These sites also enable you to find local lawyers as well. Usually, lawyers have actively registered for inclusion on these sites, and the ones listed on the top of a page have mostly paid for the placement (so far, this writer has exclusively done the former). Those lawyers and firms in the top spots may or may not be your best alternative in your area, but may certainly be an indication of the firm or lawyer’s success. See Legal Information Institute (Cornell Univ.)*, Findlaw.com*, Justia.com*, and Nolo.com*
5. Lawyer Ranking Websites – In addition to lawyer ratings, these sites contain most attorneys practicing today, whether or not they have registered with the site. Ratings are based on peer review or sometimes client comments. However, controversy exists in this system since some lawyers are downgraded for past discipline for which the lawyer has already “served time”. Additionally, others complain that the system provides more benefit to large firms or lawyers who have “quid pro quo” relationships with each other. See Avvo.com, Law.com (including Bestlawyers.com), and Martindale.com.*