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Q uestions

How to find a good lawyer in your area *

First, understand what kind of attorney you need. 

Our justice system has two basic tracks: criminal and civil. 

  • If this a criminal matter, meaning you have been charged with a crime, you need an attorney who handles criminal matters.  Typically, these same attorneys handle traffic citations as well. 

  • If you have a civil matter — because you’ve been sued or believe you’ve been wronged by another person or business that owes you compensation as a result — then you need a civil attorney.

  • Some attorneys handle both criminal and civil matters.  These are often small firm general practitioners. 

  • Depending on how specialized or intensive your criminal or civil matter is, a general practitioner may be well suited and less expensive than attorneys who are more focused.  Generally, the higher the stakes in punishment or money, or the more complicated the circumstances, the more advisable it would be to consider an attorney with greater experience or focus on your particular type of situation.

  • (The attorneys at Reiss & Nutt are civil attorneys; we don’t handle criminal matters but maintain relationships with recommended criminal attorneys in the event our clients need referrals.) 

 

If yours is a civil matter, ask yourself what kind of issues are involved. 

  • Do you need a will, trust, or estate drawn up?  Do you need tax advice?  Do you want to buy or sell property?  Those typically fall under the category of “transactional” issues that many attorneys handle routinely, so you may want to search for an attorney who specifically handles your type of transaction.

  • When a dispute arises between adverse parties or your business is likely to sue or be sued, civil litigation becomes a possibility.  That’s when you want to consider a litigation attorney.  

    • Unlike most transactional legal practices, litigation attorneys spend their time attempting to resolve disputes and then representing their clients in court or arbitration proceedings when negotiations fail. 

    • Some litigation attorneys focus their practice on very specific types of cases — a good example would be medical malpractice — but others are experienced in handling cases across varied legal issues. 

    • For example, while a transactional attorney may spend most of her time creating wills, trusts, and estates but does not close real property transactions, a litigation attorney may handle medical malpractice cases, feuds over the legitimacy of wills, and negligent misrepresentation during the sale of a commercial office building.  

 

Next, ask around.

 

Most law firms offer a web site with background information about their firm and attorneys.

 

  • Those can be useful, but the information is often too broad to help you form an opinion about who to call. 

  • There’s no substitute for a referral from a trusted source.

    • If your business is in a dispute over a lease, contract, or money owed, talk to friends with their own business interests and inquire if they’ve ever hired a litigation attorney. 

    • If you plan to sue your neighbor for trespass or over a boundary dispute, ask friends who may have had a similar experience. 

    • Maybe you’re new to the area; find natives who may be able to at least point out some respected practitioners.

 

Consider your online sources.

  • When you’ve narrowed down the field, look for public reviews, such as on Google, and give them due – but not overly heavy — weight, because those may be solicited by the attorney. 

  • Also consider the attorneys’ educational background and accomplishments. 

  • Check the North Carolina State Bar, the licensing agency for attorneys, for any disciplinary actions.

 

A word of caution:

  • Many attorneys advertise they hold certain awards, recognition, or ratings by legal directory services . 

  • In many instances, attorneys are required to pay a fee to obtain those apparent distinctions.  Although they often appear to highlight some standard of quality, the main standard could be a willingness to pay.  These are a form of advertising, not necessarily an objective assessment of qualifications. 

  • (Reiss & Nutt chooses not to pay to be included in these directories.)

 

Finally, talk to your top prospects.

 

The attorney-client relationship is indeed a relationship. 

  • You should feel comfortable sharing information and accepting advice that you believe to be well-founded and credible. 

  • Especially in a litigation scenario, there will be critical moments when you are likely to make a decision that is based entirely on trust in your attorney’s recommendations.  Your prospective attorneys should show they are interested in winning, but also in your very specific goals for the litigation. 

  • Winning can mean many things, but not all the definitions necessarily account for your hopes, fears, and specific circumstances.  Make sure your attorney is out for you, not just out for blood.

  • Some attorneys advertise free consultations, but others require a fee.  You may find that you get what you pay for; while a free consultation is often intended primarily to bring you in as a client, a paid consultation may be more geared toward providing you advice about how to proceed regardless of whether you choose to hire the attorney for further work on the matter.

 

We believe you should be looking for a litigation attorney who is as aggressive as necessary at any given moment but always levelheaded. 

  • People often say they want a “bulldog” on their side.  Attorneys who label themselves as "bulldogs" can lose focus of their client's best interests and unnecessarily run up legal fees in the name of being overly aggressive.

  • A client’s interests are often poorly served by that kind of approach to a problem.  A savvy lawyer combines zealous advocacy and diplomacy to efficiently achieve clients' goals.

 

Experience does matter.

 

  • If you have a case that may require litigation, consider the ultimate scenario: a trial. 

    • Has the attorney you’re considering handled jury trials?  If so, what kind and what was the longest trial? 

    • Many people would be surprised at how rare jury trials are in our civil justice system.  At least satisfy yourself that if your case comes to that ultimate confrontation, your attorney will know what’s coming. 

  • Don’t be fooled by statements on web sites like: “Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Won.” 

    • That is highly unlikely but for the largest national law firms and may only be justified by a local attorney’s participation in multi-district class action litigation in which he or she may have just filled out a form on behalf of a small number of clients. 

    • If an attorney makes a claim like that, require him to explain it with examples.

 

At the end of the day, you're looking for an attorney who cares about you and your case, and will be personally invested in getting the best outcome for you. You need that person to be alert, brave, wise, and diligent. If the stakes are high enough that litigation is necessary, it's imperative to choose an attorney who is up to the challenge of seeing it through.

* This FAQ does not create an attorney-client relationship and should not be a substitute for consulting an attorney about your case.  This FAQ is intended to provide general information about the practice of law in response to generalized questions.  If you have a specific concern that requires detailed information about your situation, you may need to consult an attorney directly.

© 2020 by Reiss & Nutt PLLC.

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