Trusting Lawyers

Yesterday I had a chance to give a short talk to members of a Portland area ethnic community. The talk was about how to know when you need a lawyer in personal injury and business cases. Someone asked a question about hiring a lawyer who charges by the hour. Before I could answer, another member of the class said “never hire a lawyer by the hour.” That same person then went on to talk about a time she had hired a lawyer for a flat fee, and how she got ripped off with that too. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

So I got to thinking: I feel like I’m an honest lawyer, but how can a prospective client tell?

I explain this to the class:

  • Try to get a lawyer’s name (a referral) from someone you trust.
  • If you don’t know anyone who knows an attorney, contact the Oregon State Bar referral line at (800) 452-8260 or visit www.findlaw.com or www.avvo.com. Look up local lawyers for the type of case you need help. Check out the lawyer’s web page.
  • Once you call the lawyer, find out if they offer a free consultation and how long it is.
  • Expect to have about 15 to 20  minutes with the lawyer over the phone.
  • Explain your case and ask the lawyer if he/she has handled a case like this.
  • Ask the lawyer if they offer a contingent fee for an injury case and what percent they charge.
  • For other cases ask the lawyer if they charge by the hour or flat fee.
  • Get an estimate of how many hours the lawyer thinks the case will be and their hourly rate. This can be hard for a lawyer to do, but at least get a range of hours. If later you learn it took many more hours you can ask why.

It’s no secret that lawyers, like every other business, are in it to earn money. Sadly some lawyers fit the bad stereotypes we’ve heard about. But “buyer beware” and doing your homework can lead to a lasting relationship with an attorney who can help you right now.