How to Choose a Lawyer in Five Steps

Work with a lawyer, not your uncle or your mom. Here’s the secret to finding great lawyers.

How to Choose a Lawyer in Five Steps

Photo by David J. Eads/Getty Images

By: Jason Alderman

Almost anyone who’s ever filed a claim for damages is familiar with lawsuits arising from the addition of “to-be-determined” or “additional damages” to the initial filing. Often an attorney adds the sum to set a course for future litigation – for example, if the client wants the lawsuit settled or wants to limit the scope of the court proceedings.

Lawsuits resulting from “additional damages” often happen unexpectedly: You or a family member are injured during a severe storm or accident, or you’re injured in a car accident on your way to a wedding or other celebration, and your insurance company later adds $20,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist (UMM) costs on top of the initial $250,000.

The following are guidelines for selecting a good attorney to handle your case:

Interview at least five attorneys to determine the best fit. A lawyer who’s had mixed results in past cases is probably not the best match.

Get referrals from family, friends, acquaintances and leaders in your organization. Often they know a lawyer who specializes in a particular type of case, or who represents their relatives.

Start by asking if the attorney will represent you pro bono (for free), and if not, under what terms. A lawyer who doesn’t offer pro bono will usually prefer to bill at an hourly rate, or get paid even if you agree to settle early.

Present a list of questions, such as:

Where do they do all their work? If they only keep you in the loop by email, that’s fine if the answers are simple. But before booking an appointment, make sure it will be easy to track down issues, comments or documents.

Is the attorney member of the American Bar Association (ABA)? ABA-accredited lawyers spend more time in classrooms learning the latest legal matters, and more time meeting with judges and trial judges to facilitate specific mediation or settlement strategies.

And make sure the lawyer is well-qualified to handle your type of case and can pass the ethical standards of that organization. Check their ABA report card on attorney suitability, which contains detailed information on:

Knowledge of the law.

Enforcement of the law.

Logic and philosophy behind advocacy.


An understanding of the relationship between law and morality.

An understanding of how the law impacts your rights and entitlements.

A lawyer who’s ABA-accredited is likely to pass this ethical threshold and can also accredit you via your state bar association – and more importantly, court evaluators who’ve seen your case and questions.

To search for a local attorney, check out, or

Also check with American Bar Association (ABN) Affiliates, a nationwide network of attorneys who prepare and offer high-quality representation for their clients. Visit

If you’re employed, have a large trust or foundation and plan to travel for work, meet with a lawyer who takes private clients and also offers help to businesses in Northeast Texas. Also consider law firms where attorneys specialize in economic crime and litigation, mergers and acquisitions, mergers and acquisitions involving complex financial transactions, and complex antitrust matters.

Finally, consider getting a good referral for a well-known attorney from your local chamber of commerce or a national association of state bar associations. Check the directory at and at the law school where you studied for a good one.

Best of luck to you in deciding who to hire for your next legal matter.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter:

This article was provided to, an online destination for financial news, information and advice for consumers.

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