7 QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE HIRING A LAWYER
As a member of the legal profession for over 25 years, I’ve worked with some of the best, and unfortunately, some of the worst attorneys in Minnesota. I’ve learned a lot from every experience, so I want to share some thoughts with consumers who are less familiar with the legal industry. Here are 7 questions to ask when you are seeking an attorney to hire.
1. DO YOU WORK WITH A PARALEGAL?
This is a critical question to ask if you are a cost-conscious client! A great deal of work that needs to be completed can be performed by a paralegal under the direct supervision of the attorney. As the client, this saves you money. Let’s assume for a moment that the attorney and the paralegal can both complete a document in the same amount of time. If it takes an hour to write your petition, would you rather pay the attorney’s rate of $300 per hour or the paralegal’s rate of $180 per hour? A skilled team will be able to make edits on the document quickly, resulting in an overall lower cost than the attorney doing all the work start to finish.
2. WHAT PERCENTAGE OF YOUR PRACTICE IS IN [FILL IN AREA OF LAW]?
General practice attorneys are excellent in many ways, but if you are heading into a custody dispute, do you want a lawyer that spends most of his or her time on family law cases or one that focuses on patents and trademarks and takes a family case here and there? Certainly if an attorney has been recommended to you by someone you trust, you might place more faith in the attorney’s abilities even if your case isn’t in a primary practice area for the firm. Either way, you should know what level of expertise you are paying for when you decide to retain an attorney.
3. HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE IN MINNESOTA FAMILY LAW?
Don’t write off an attorney solely because he or she has been licensed for a few years. Some of the sharpest lawyers are the ones in practice less than 5 years. Why? Because they spend time reading the statutes, rules, etc. Newer lawyers tend to be very conscious of following every rule and attending many continuing legal education courses to increase their confidence and skills. Again, the point of this question is really for you to gauge the knowledge level of the person you are hiring. From my perspective, the most promising new attorneys are the ones who are willing to draw on the knowledge of others in the firm, such as the paralegal.
-Lori Hogen, RP, MnCP is the Senior Mediator and Paralegal with Walker and Galili. She has served in the legal profession for over 25 years and is the Chairman of the Minnesota Paralegals Association Family Law Section. Ms. Hogen is also an ethics investigator for the 8th District Ethics Committee, a commission on the Shakopee Planning Commission/Board of Adjustments & Appeals. Ms. Hogen’s many additional awards and affiliations can be found on her page www.metroattorneymn.com/about or at www.metroattorneymn.com.
4. WILL YOU BE THE PRIMARY ATTORNEY WORKING ON MY FILE?
Depending on the firm structure, you might be meeting with the senior attorney, but the firm’s plan may be to assign your file to an underling. If that’s the case, the firm should be honest with you about who will be working on your case, and you should be comfortable with that choice. It’s necessary for attorneys to ask for sensitive information in order to adequately represent you, and if you are uneasy with the attorney, you may not be as forthcoming with information as you need to be.
5. HAVE YOU (OR ANYONE THAT WILL BE WORKING ON MY FILE) EVER BEEN DISCIPLINED BY THE BAR?
While this information is usually available to the public, it doesn’t hurt to ask the question. You are, after all, interviewing the attorney to work for you.
6. WHAT IS THE CHARGE FOR EXPENSES LIKE PHOTOCOPIES AND FAXES?
This will probably be disclosed in a retainer agreement, but you want to make sure you understand expenses. Even in contingency fee cases (where the lawyer only collects attorney fees if you win your case), the client is typically responsible for payment of expenses. Some places I’ve worked have charged $1-$2 per page for faxes and $.25 per page for photocopies. Depending on the case, these charges could be $100+ dollars a month! On the other end of the spectrum, some attorneys feel that for the fee clients pay, photocopies and faxing should be included.
7. DO YOU HAVE A POLICY FOR RESPONDING TO CLIENT CALLS/EMAILS/LETTERS?
Attorneys prioritize their cases in many different ways – first in-first out, upcoming court dates, payment status, “favorite” clients first, etc. As the client, you need to be comfortable with how the attorney manages cases.. It may not always be feasible for the attorney to call you back the same day or even the next day depending on court schedules and other factors beyond the attorney’s control. The important thing is that the attorney is communicating with clients and making sure you stay informed about your case. Most people are okay with it taking a couple days to hear back from their lawyer as long as they know they aren’t being ignored.
At Metro Law and Mediation, we believe that communication is the key to a successful attorney-client relationship. Our Attorneys, Paralegals, and Mediators draw on their years of experience and training in representing our clients with effective communication. Most importantly – don’t be shy to ask questions. Whether it’s an agreement, trial, or a proposal to settle, you should discuss and understand the elements with your lawyer.