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How to Find and Select Good Employment Lawyers

posted by Neil Klingshirn  |  Jul 17, 2009 12:09 PM [EST] in Representation  |  applies to All States

Good employment lawyers are like good mechanics. They tell you what you need, suggest the best way to get it, are skilled at their craft and present you with a reasonable bill.  Good employment lawyers, however, like good mechanics, can also be hard to find. This article offers suggestions for finding and selecting the best employment lawyer for you.

Research


First, learn about your legal problem. General search engines index articles and information about a wide range of legal problems. This site in particular is devoted employment problems encountered by individual employees.

Second, identify the lawyers who represent individual employees in your area. You can find lawyers using:
  • general legal directories;
  • specialized bar association membership directories;
  • general search engine searches;
  • local attorney referral services; and
  • recommendations from other attorneys and professionals.
General Legal Directories

Large, general legal directories, like Lawyers.com and AVVO.com include huge numbers of attorneys who identify their areas of practice. Their attorney profiles provide information about their education and experience. Importantly, Lawyers.com provides highly respected peer ratings, with an "AV" ("A" for the highest legal ability and "V" for very high ethics) as the highest rating.  AVVO.com also provides attorney ratings based on public record, peer reviews and client recommendations. On AVVO.com, look for ratings in the 8 to 10 range, with client recommendations.

Specialized Directories

Most lawyer trade associations, like the National Employment Lawyers Association have a membership directory. Mel likewise has a directory of attorneys who represent individual employees. For other areas of the law, use key words like "[type of law, e.g., patent] bar association" and look for a membership directory on the bar association website.   To narrow your search further, include your state as a search term.

Bar Association and Personal Referral Services

Attorneys trade associations, called "bar" associations (I have no idea why), often provide a referral service, especially on a local level. Most attorney referral services provide you with the name of an attorney who is willing to meet with you for a short time to discuss your legal problem. Many referral services require the attorney to provide that consultation for free.

In addition, consult with your family lawyer, an attorney that you know through sports or church, or an accountant, realtor or other professional. Employment attorneys tend to specialize, and the good ones usually have an established reputation throughout the community.

General Search Engine Search

Search for "[location] [type of law] [attorneys or lawyers].  For example, "Ohio employment lawyer."  This will provide a list of attorneys who have built their own websites or have provided information to other websites.

Selecting an Employment Lawyer


Once you have a list of names, use the following checklist for an initial screen, so that you narrow your choices down to three or four:
  • Look at their biographical information and ratings.  Do they have expertise in the area of employment law that you need? Do they have any information on their web sites that is helpful to you?
  • Find out if the attorney represents employers or employees. Lawyers who represent employers usually do not represent employees. So look at the lawyer's profile and client list, if one is available. An attorney who primarily represents companies may not represent individuals. If you cannot tell, call the lawyer's office and find out.
  • Use search engines to search for the name of the lawyer and firm. Can you find any articles, FAQ's or other informational pieces that the lawyer has done? Cross check your references by searching with key words such as "employment attorneys" or "severance pay and attorneys."
  • Ask other people if they have heard of the attorneys and what they think about them.
  • You will probably want to hire a lawyer with at least a few years of experience.
  • Contact your state bar association or visit their Web site to find out if the lawyer is in good standing or go to AVVO.com, which compiles this information for you.
  • Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
  • Check out the online archives of your local newspaper. Has there been any publicity about the lawyer or the cases that he or she has handled?
Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?

By now you should have a "short list" of two or three names. Contact the attorney's firm and ask to schedule a consultation. Most firms will charge a consultation to meet with you, and few employment attorneys will be willing to speak with you for free. Therefore, expect to pay anywhere from $75.00 to $250.00 for an initial consultation.

Don't be surprised if the attorney cannot meet with you on short notice. On the other hand, a wait of more than a week is a sign that the attorney may be too busy to give a new case such as yours the time and attention it requires.

Meeting with an Employment Lawyer


The consultation with the lawyer is the most important factor in your decision to hire an attorney. Evaluate the attorney based on the following:
  • Does the attorney listen?
  • Does he or she understand your problem, or will he or she have research it to answer your questions?
  • Can the attorney explain the law in a way that you understand?
  • Do you feel confident that he or she will solve your legal problem in a cost-effective way?
  • Expect that whomever you hire will delegate a lot of responsibility to his or her staff. Therefore, evaluate how the lawyer's staff treats you, since they are a reflection of how the lawyer practices. At a minimum, both the lawyer and should treat you courteously and professionally.
  • Ask about conflicts of interest. Does the lawyer represent your employer or other interested party?

Money Matters


When you are ready to hire an employment lawyer to represent you in a matter, ask for a copy of the lawyer's retainer agreement and review it carefully.  Generally speaking, attorneys will charge for their services in one or more of the following ways:
  • By the hour, usually anywhere from $90 to $250 an hour
  • With a non-refundable fee retainer of as much as $5,000
  • On a contingency fee basis, where you pay the attorney a portion of what he or she recovers for you.
Paying by the hour is the fairest arrangement for both the attorney and the client, since a contingency fee always benefits one side or the other. But most individuals cannot afford the $50,000 to $80,000 in attorney time that employment litigation often requires, so a contingency fee is often the only alternative.

In addition to paying the attorney for his or her time, most legal matters involve court reporter, expert and exhibit preparation costs. The client is responsible for these costs, although some law firms may pay for these costs at the outset and recover them from the client at the conclusion of the representation. Make sure that your retainer agree addresses who pays for the costs and when. A typical employment law case will involve $5,000 to $7,500 in costs.

The firm may require an initial retainer. The attorney may need the retainer as security for payment of court costs or the firm's fees, when charging on an hourly basis.  This money should go into the attorney's trust fund and be disbursed only to pay for costs or services actually incurred. If the representation ends before the retainer is billed, the attorney should return the balance to the client.

Some firms will charge a non-refundable fee retainer. We can think of few situations where it's appropriate for a lawyer to do so.  Consequently, consider this payment arrangement a negative when selecting your attorney. 

Finally, use your common sense and gut instincts in deciding who to hire. Your relationship can last several years and will involve a good working relationship and trust.

posted by Neil Klingshirn  |  Jul 17, 2009 12:09 PM [EST] in Representation  |  applies to All States

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