One of the least satisfying experiences is searching for a lawyer. Let’s face it - nobody likes lawyers. Many of us turn to legal professionals only when we don’t have any other choice. Whether that’s going through a nasty divorce, getting laid off without proper notice and severance compensation, or when addressing a personal injury case - these once-in-a-lifetime situations force us to get outside of our comfort zone and seek legal advice.
Unfortunately, since most people are not intimately familiar with the intricacies of the legal industry, finding the right lawyer makes it feel more like playing a lottery, and less like following a pre-defined process.
Unlike buying stuff on Amazon or getting into an Uber cab, lawyers don’t come with peer reviews, public track-record in a form of a star rating, or the level of quality that is universally maintained.
Lawyers differ in their experience, areas of expertise, how much they charge, and how they handle cases for their clients. It gets even more overwhelming, when trying to choose between hiring a partner from a large law firm, a lawyer from a small practice, reaching out to a legal clinic or a pro-bono organization, or handling it yourself.
And while exercising your best judgment, it’s not uncommon to make matters even worse, by hiring the wrong kind of lawyer and digging yourself into a deep financial hole.
Below we’ve compiled a list of the biggest mistakes consumers of legal services make, when hiring a lawyer to help with their case.
1. Hiring the first lawyer you meet
While it's tempting to trust the first result for a law firm on Google, or the first person mentioned in the Lawyers’ Magazine, it doesn't always guarantee the best result. Think about it from a different angle: would you necessarily date the first person you’ve met after school, or buy the first car mentioned in the catalog?
Instead, you can leverage a free consultation that many lawyers offer, to find out more about that person, and if they are a good fit to handle your case. Set an appointment, prepare your questions, and talk to as many prospects as possible, before making your final decision.
Not only does a lawyer have to be a good fit personally, but they also have to have the right experience and have ideally had worked on similar cases before. If none of the candidates meet your criteria, keep searching, and don’t be afraid to circle back to those lawyers if you change your mind later.
2. Hiring the cheapest lawyer
Legal services are expensive. Many lawyers would quote $250 - $500/hr to work on your case, and some of the most prominent lawyers in the city would only handle cases worth tens of thousands of dollars, or more.
For most people, that earn less than $35,000 a year, or have been relying on CERB payments of $2,000/month to cover their living expenses, that cost becomes an unbearable burden, preventing many from hiring a lawyer, hoping that the issue would go away, or even worse - picking the lawyer solely based on the fee that they charge.
In the legal industry, fees that lawyers charge usually depend on the number of years of experience practicing law. Those who have been representing clients for several decades would charge significantly more than those who just graduated from law school and obtained their license.
For that reason, don’t base your entire decision on the fee quoted to you on the call, although be considerate of various ways you can reduce your legal bill, while still retaining a top lawyer.
3. Not knowing the process and not asking questions
When hiring an attorney, one of the biggest mistakes that most people make, is to completely hand over the control of the situation, without asking any questions.
Finding the right person to handle your case requires having a two-way conversation. Very often clients get intimidated by the legal professional, defaulting into the mode of answering questions and providing all the information, without ever asking the lawyer a question of their own.
You want to remain in control of the situation, no matter what. For that reason, consider asking important questions that would help you understand the process and the complexity of your situation.
When having a consultation with a lawyer, Inquire about your situation, the complexity of your case, and the process for resolving it. Ask, if a lawyer has previously worked on similar cases, and if they have the capacity to handle your case. Finally, try to understand the risks involved, and whether it is possible to de-escalate the situation without taking legal action.
4. Not setting clear time and cost expectations
One of the biggest mistakes clients make is assuming that it‘s not possible to gauge the timelines and the cost, until after the case is resolved. But that exposes you as a client to massive risk.
You’ve probably heard the horror stories of legal cases that dragged on for months and months, costing thousands and thousands of dollars, until the client finally pulled out.
While every case varies in complexity, make sure to ask a lawyer during the consultation how long it would take to win the case, and how much it would cost in total.
Lawyers may sometimes quote a fixed fee to handle common cases such as divorce or bankruptcy, and in some cases would only charge a client if their case is won (in case of personal injury). Where possible, ask to provide a fixed-fee estimate, and outline other non-lawyer costs, such as government filing costs.
Be clear about the timelines as well. Lawyers might be eager to get you to sign a retainer, but might be understaffed to take on your case right away. Usually, legal cases are time-sensitive, yet not all lawyers would be willing to turn down a client, simply because they are over capacity.
5. Assuming you always need a lawyer
Because normal people like you and I lack a deep understanding of how the legal system works, we automatically assume by mistake that every legal matter requires a lawyer.
Yet it’s not always true.
In some cases, having an attorney represent you, especially when going to court, may indeed be required. In other cases, you may be able to handle a situation yourself, or hire a law clerk or a paralegal to help guide you through the process.
For example, if you get laid off, it might be tempting to turn to a lawyer to help understand your options. But in most cases, lay off procedures and severance would be outlined in the employment contract you’ve signed at the beginning of your working term.
Similarly, when going through an immigration process, it’s usually worthwhile to review all the government resources first. In many cases, the application process is straightforward and can be handled by an applicant themselves. In rare cases your situation is unique, or you would like to be extra cautious, hiring a lawyer to review your application - rather than to help throughout the entire process - might help you save a significant amount of money while still getting the benefit of professional advice.