Finding a good lawyer can be tricky. Like finding a decent doctor, mechanic, or restaurant, it can be hit and miss. Luck of the draw. But there are steps you can take it increase your chances of finding a decent one.
Step 1: Type of Lawyer
While there are general practitioners, many lawyers do have a specialty, and it is usually a good idea to find one that focuses on the area you need help in (tax, civil, criminal, real estate, corporate, environmental, and so on).
Step 2: Narrow it Down
Once you know what type of lawyer you’re looking for, it’s time to narrow down the options. You can conduct a quick online search using relevant keywords (e.g. tax lawyer seattle) to get a rough list. But you want to start trimming the list as soon as possible. You don’t want any old lawyer...you want a good one. To that end, you need to read up on specific lawyers.
Referral Services - legal charities, government branches, the local bar association, and websites (Forbes suggests Martindale) can offer recommendations and ratings.
Personal Referrals - ask your friends, colleagues, and family about their dealings with local attorneys. What was their experience? Who would they recommend?
Online Reviews - you can find plenty of reviews from “regular folk” online. Check forums, communities, and review websites.
You should be able to narrow your rough list down to a select few at this point. Never chose a lawyer based solely on someone else’s referral, but it does allow you to move to the next step with a more manageable number of candidates.
Step 3: Email the Short-List
Find the email address (available on the firm website or legal directory), and contact your candidates. Ask questions such as:
How long have you been practicing?
Do you have a specialty?
How big is your practice?
Do you generally settle out of court, or do you usually go to trial?
Have you handled anything similar to this (your particular situation) before?
Will you personally be working on my case?
What are your fees like? (flat, hourly, retainer, contingency, statutory)
Depending on the answers you receive, you should be able to further reduce your list. You obviously want someone experienced, and ideally someone with direct experience in your particular situation. You need someone within your budget (legal fees can get astronomical very quickly). An often-forgotten element in the selection process is the size of their practice. You may not need someone working at a firm with thousands of lawyers. Your needs may be better (and more personally) handled by someone working alone or with only 1-2 partners.
Step 4: Visit and “Interview”
Eliminate another few names from your list based on what you hear from them. Scratch off anyone you don’t hear back from at all, but also consider removing those that took the longest to respond...it may indicate that they are too busy, or simply lack promptness, or see answering email questions as a waste of their time.
Write back to the most promising 2-4 lawyers and request a meeting. Email is all well and good, but you absolutely must meet in person before choosing an attorney. Bring supporting documentation regarding your particular case, but don’t walk in with boxes and boxes of material (remember, they aren’t your lawyer yet).
The purpose of the face-to-face meeting is to get a real-life feel for the dynamic between the two of you. Consider:
Chemistry and Comfort-level - do you like him/her? Do you get along? Do you feel comfortable with them, or did they talk down to you and make you feel stupid?
Communication Skills - how well does the lawyer communicate? Do they speak well? A good lawyer needs to be a good communicator, both written and verbal.
Gut-instinct - what does your gut tell you? We often ignore this, but it can often (usually?) point us in the right direction.
It may be appropriate to discuss some particulars of your case (but don’t reveal too much...until they are officially your lawyer, there is no attorney-client confidentiality agreement). Ask their opinion on the case. What do they think?
See also: 5 Occasions You Should Hire a Lawyer
Ultimately, the decision will likely come down to your gut. All lawyers are well educated. Many lawyers may specialize in the area you need help in. Most of them communicate well. So it comes down to whomever you can see yourself working with best. A lawyer-client relationship is intimate, so chose on the basis of recommendation, experience, and education, of course, but also on that abstract quality of chemistry, too.