When faced with a legal question, many people are unsure about where and how to start. Selecting a lawyer for your needs and becoming acquainted about legal issues can be a daunting task. I often compare selecting an attorney to selecting a physician. You need to do some research, interview them or have an initial consultation, and evaluate if they are a good fit for you and your needs in order to make an informed decision. The stakes are high, both personal and financial.

Legal Tips Before You Hire

  1. First ask yourself if you need an attorney, or if you can you resolve the matter yourself. An experienced lawyer provides advice and guidance to help you understand the complexity of the laws, guardianship, contested wills or special needs planning. Lawyers can help protect their clients from situations that might later turn into an emotional and financial hardship.
  2. Don’t Delay! We are not invincible and, as time creeps up on us, there might be unexpected events or injuries that create unforeseen problems. If you are getting remarried, now is the time to revisit your will and estate plan. If you have a loved one that is experiencing cognitive issues, consider a legal review of all important documents and care plans. Your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease may have some very lucid moments, but we know from experience that their decisional capacity can change overnight.
  3. Find an attorney that meets your needs. I suggest first reviewing the attorney’s practice area and determining if that attorney practices in the areas in which you need assistance. How long have they practiced in this area and have they handled similar situations? Another approach is to search for an attorney by a life event, such as getting married or divorced, buying a home or caring for aging parents. Next, consider location and where the attorney is licensed to practice. Do they have office locations that are convenient for their clients?
  4. Case Management. When you retain legal services, your attorney will discuss possible strategies, potential obstacles, expectations, how long the process will take, how much it will cost and potential outcomes. Be sure you understand the billing process and the frequency of billing plus any billable expenses. Keep an open line of communication with your attorney and share your expectations.
  5. Understand Legal Fees. Often people shop for an attorney based on fees. Hourly rates are the most common fee structure. The hourly rates vary depending on experience and location. Flat fees are all-inclusive and are quoted when the services provided are more predictable, such as preparing estate planning documents. A contingency fee means the attorney earns a percentage of the settlement or judgment. Retainer fees are advanced payments/deposits based on an hourly rate. The retainer money is deposited in a special account and the attorney’s fees are deducted as services are completed.
  6. Know what kind of shopper you are! Do you grocery shop at multiple stores to obtain the cheapest deal in town? Do you shop for an orthopedic surgeon that has the lowest cost knee replacement or do you shop for THE BEST surgeon so you have THE BEST possible outcome? Do you shop for price or do you shop for value and experience? When considering to hire an attorney, don’t compare them like apples and oranges. It’s important to hire an attorney who has the skills and experience to provide you close personal attention, courtesy and commitment.

Kerry R. Peck concentrates his practice in Trust and Estate Litigation, Estate Planning, Administration, Guardianship and Fiduciary Litigation, Special Needs and Alzheimer’s disease Planning.  Mr. Peck is past President of the 22,000-lawyer Chicago Bar Association and was retained by the City of Chicago Department of Aging to rewrite the State of Illinois Elder Abuse and Neglect Act. He co-wrote the book Alzheimer’s and the Law, published by the American Bar Association, and frequently teaches attorneys and healthcare professionals across the country.