How to Select the Right Attorney for You
By Liz Perry
Early in my legal career I was talking with a realtor about how to help clients select a realtor. (The issue often comes up when real property needs to be sold in a probate). The experienced realtor I was talking to was very helpful in suggesting questions for interviewing potential realtors. They were questions like: “How many houses did you sell last year?”, “How many do you currently have listed?”, and “How are you going to market my house?”
A light bulb went on for me which had been a little dim. The appropriate questions seemed so obvious once I heard them.
I suspect it may be the same for the public when deciding which attorney to hire. I have tried to come up with questions for figuring out if you are hiring the right attorney for your estate planning, however the same ideas can be applied to hiring an attorney in other areas of law.
The following are some questions that I hope will be helpful:
1) How long have you been practicing law?
It’s probably best not to be your attorney’s first client.
2) What areas of the law do you work in?
If the attorney does everything from “soup to nuts” it’s difficult for him or her to be proficient at all of them. All areas of law have subtleties that the attorney will more fully understood if the attorney is dealing with that type of law all the time.
3) How long have you worked in estate planning law?
You want to make sure you attorney did not just decide to make estate planning his or her area of focus last week. If you have a taxable estate or are concerned about Medicaid, ask if the attorney has specialized training in those areas.
4) How many estate planning projects have you done in the last 12 months?
If the attorney says only 6 or 7 you know he or she does not focus on estate planning since that is only one project every other month.
5) Do you have written materials on the areas of law I am concerned with that I can read before our appointment?
If you can get some basic understanding ahead of time, your conference will be more productive. An attorney who does a lot of estate planning work will likely have prepared written materials to help clients with the basic concepts.
6) What is the fee for the initial conference?
Don’t be shy about asking about fees, especially the charge for the initial conference. After the initial conference the attorney should be able to give you a quote to complete the project or at least the range the fees will be in. At the conference you should ask for the quote in writing -ideally in a fee agreement – so there is no confusion.
7) What information should I bring to our first conference?
If you get your factual information organized before you go to the appointment, your attorney can spend the conference time helping you prioritize your goals and identify the simplest way to accomplish them. Most attorneys whose practice emphasizes estate planning will have a questionnaire for you to fill out that will help you get organized before the appointment.
One thing to be aware of is that often when you call an attorney’s office you will talk with the attorney’s assistant who is in charge of scheduling appointments. The assistant should know the answers to the above questions or be able to get back to you with the answers so you can decide whether this is the attorney for you.
Elizabeth A. Perry, a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, has been helping Clark County seniors with their estate planning needs for over 20 years. Her practice emphasizes estate planning, probate and Medicaid planning. She can be reached at (360) 816-2485.
(The above should not be construed as specific legal advice and is intended for general information purposes only.)
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© Elizabeth A. Perry – Attorney At Law – Vancouver, WA