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Finding the best attorney for you

Often when you need an attorney, you need one right away. But it's tough to find an attorney in a particular field for the right price at a moment's notice.

"It's easy to find a lawyer -- it's sometimes difficult to find the right lawyer," says Jay Foonberg of Bailey & Partners in Santa Monica, Calif.

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But there are some short-cuts that can help.

First, find out what kind of lawyer you might need. Lawyers specialize. If you know a lawyer, any lawyer, call them, says Foonberg, author of "Finding the Right Lawyer." Explain your situation and ask what kind of specialist you might need. Bonus points if the lawyer knows one or two good attorneys in that area.

If you don't know a lawyer, many state or local bar associations run lawyer information and referral services. For a nominal fee, they will listen to your story and tell you whether you really need a lawyer. "More than half the people who call for a lawyer don't need a lawyer," says Foonberg.

If you do, they can also give you a name. Now you know what type of lawyer you need and you've got at least a referral.

"Once you find out what specialty you need, you're a long way toward where you want to be," says Foonberg.

A list of names
Before you go any further, get a few more names on your list. Here are a few good options:

Professionals who work with a lot of lawyers. For a real estate attorney, you might contact a real estate agent, broker, home inspector or property insurance agent. For a tax lawyer, you can ask a CPA or financial planner.

Civic, professional or social groups. Professional organizations or networking groups can be a gold mine for getting referrals, says Jill Lublin, co-author of "Networking Magic: Find the Best -- From Doctors, Lawyers, and Accountants to Homes, Schools, and Jobs." Ask very specific questions: "Who do you use? And how long have you worked with them?"

Legal associations. Specialty organizations such as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America or the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, are also good sources, says attorney Gayle Rosenwald Smith, author of "Divorce and Money: Everything You Need to Know." And you know that your referral will be well versed in this area of the law, she says.

Many times local chapters will give you a list of members in the area or post the information on the group's Web site.

The Internet. Check local publications for lawyers who are getting kudos in cases similar to yours or who are quoted as experts in the field.

Friends. "I'm a simple guy," says Rick Frishman, co-author of "Networking Magic." "I want to deal with someone who has dealt with my best friend. You probably have 10 people you really trust."

Someone who has been in the same situation. Who did they use? Did they like the lawyer and were they satisfied with the results?

The head of your company. OK, if you've been caught doing something that could ruin your rep or get you fired, this may not be the way to go. But if you're looking for something fairly routine, go to the president's gatekeeper and ask who the CEO uses, says Frishman.

Bookstores. "If someone is smart enough to write a book on a subject, then they're probably one of the top people," says Frishman. "And if a publisher's going to publish it, they are going to have checked him out."

One caveat: Some people self-publish. So if you like the idea of having a major publishing house vet your attorney, look for a publisher you recognize.

-- Posted: May 4, 2005




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