Every time you go online, turn on the television, or open a phone book, there are dozens of adds for lawyers and law firms. But how to look past the expensive advertising and determine which attorney to hire? In selecting a lawyer, there a number of things to consider, but these six are the most important

1. Look for Experience.

If you are reading a bio or profile, check and see what year the lawyer graduated from law school and what year he or she was first licensed to practice law.  If you are meeting with the lawyer, simply ask how long he has been in practice.   Obviously, a lawyer who has been in practice for 15, 20, 30 years has more experience which he or she can apply to your problem than a person who is more recent to the practice of law.  If a lawyer does not reveal how much experience he or she has or how long he or she has been in practice, that’s not a good sign.  An experienced lawyer will want to instill confidence in you and put you at ease with his or her high level of experience.   And you as a client should want that.

2. Look for Expertise

Make sure that the lawyer you are talking to or reading about has particular experience or expertise in the area of bankruptcy law.  If you need a family lawyer, hire a family lawyer.  If you need an estate planning lawyer, hire an estate planning lawyer.   Lawyers who have been practicing for several years tend to focus on one or two areas that they love.  They devote their practice to those areas and become experts.

In contrast, there are lawyers who dabble in many areas of the law.  They may attempt to represent clients in divorces, bankruptcies, accidents, estate planning, tax,  personal injury, etc., etc.  If you have a important legal matter, why trust the outcome to a dabbler?  Hire an attorney who is recognized for dealing  in your area of concern.

This is especially true in bankruptcy law which is a highly technical area.  Maybe if you have a simple bankruptcy case, a jack of all trades could work out.  But if it turns out that your case presents some complicated issues, then you will be best served by a lawyer with a more specialized skill set and basis of knowledge.  Why risk it?  Go with experience.

3. Know who you’re Working with

Make sure that you will be dealing with the lawyer himself or herself rather than a secretary or legal assistant. Nothing is worse than paying hard earned money to hire a lawyer and then getting passed around the office from one assistant to another assistant. Make sure that you will have one point of contact for all of your questions and dealings. And ideally, that one point of contact should be your bankruptcy lawyer, not a secretary or assistant.

4. Shop Local

In selecting any attorney, you should try to hire a local attorney.  Many bankruptcy law firms attempt to run offices in multiple states with a ‘volume-based’ business model. These firms suffer when it comes to both expertise and customer service. A multi-state firm churns through cases, unaware of the nuances of state-specific law. For example, the Wisconsin bankruptcy exemptions, (what items you get to keep after bankruptcy) are very different than those in California. Not only will a local attorney be better-versed in state-specific bankruptcy laws, but a local lawyer will also provide better service, for three important reasons:

  • The so-called “little guys” value their reputation, and rely on referrals from satisfied customers.
  • When you have an important question, you don’t want to deal with an automated “phone tree” or fight a team of receptionists to locate your lawyer in some other state.
  • You will probably have to meet with your lawyer several times.  Make it convenient for yourself by picking a lawyer that’s easy for you to get to.

Luckily, south central Wisconsin is full of many fine lawyers.  If you live in the Madison area, there is no reason why you would need to hire a lawyer out of Milwaukee or from out-of-state.  Stay local.

5. Get Personal

In your initial meeting with the lawyer, get a sense of how responsive the lawyer will be to your questions and concerns.  Is he or she friendly and approachable?  Does he or she make you comfortable enough to ask any question and share personal information.  If your lawyer does not have time for you or an interest in you at the initial stage of the case, it will only get worse after she’s cashed your check.  Trust your instinct.

6. Look for Value

The issue of cost is always a consideration. After speaking with a few lawyers, you should have a good idea of what an experienced bankruptcy lawyer will charge for his or her services.  Be wary of the lawyer who seems to charge much less than the other lawyers.  Your bankruptcy will require a significant amount of time to do right.  A lawyer who “low balls” may cut corners or be less responsive than a lawyer who charges more for his or her services.   Be wary of the $50 or $100 “down” advertisements.  You may part with your $100.00 and ultimately end up hiring a different lawyer after the “cheaper” lawyer neglects your case or otherwise disappoints you.  Some times you do get what you pay for.