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Finding the best attorney for you -- Page 2

Trade shows. Looking for a good small business attorney? If you're at a trade show and you see a company that's put together well, "it's a good bet they have a good attorney," says Lublin.

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"What I like to do is a lot of cross-referencing," says Smith. "If you ask from different places and one person's name keeps showing up, that's a good sign."

Your due diligence
Now the fun begins. Getting referrals is one thing. Checking them out is another. Once you get a working list, try to narrow it to a handful of names.

"Like anything in life, you have to do your due diligence," says Lublin.

Some things to investigate: Are the attorneys specialists in the area of law you need? "You don't want to be talking to a hand surgeon if you need a foot doctor," says Foonberg.

Is the attorney a member of any of the specialty's legal organizations? If so, what can you find about the lawyer on the group's Web site? What about the attorney's own Web site? (Many times you can find information about the firm, clients and testimonials.)

What are your candidate's areas of expertise? Where is she or he based? What kind of clients does he or she have? Is the name or firm respected?

Has the attorney written anything (books, articles) that you can read to gain some insight into his or her attitude or practice style? Has the attorney or a case been mentioned in any newspapers, magazines or legal publications? (A local library can help you find anything that isn't online.)

And what pops up if you put the name or firm name in a search engine?

After you've narrowed your list, try to interview at least three attorneys, even if you have to spend a little to do it, says Smith.

"Sometimes an attorney will give you a free consultation," says Lublin. "It's worth it to do that." She remembers one phone consultation where the lawyer "took a decent amount of time and gave me valuable stuff." It was, she says, "real information and excellent advice for free. I hired him."

Dollars and sense
When it comes to attorneys, price is a big consideration. Get all the facts on price, including whether the lawyer prefers a flat rate or retainer, and if there's a cap.

But don't let money stall your quest for a lawyer. Inquire about the rates and if it's beyond your budget, be honest, says Smith. "Say, 'I can't afford that kind of rate,'" she says. "Sometimes, they will have an associate whose billing rates are lower. Or they may be able to recommend someone in the field who knows the law, but is struggling to make a name.

"I do think attorneys, like any professional, may be somewhat negotiable," says Lublin. "Don't judge completely by price." Some questions to ask: Can you work on contingency? Would you be open to reduced rates? Can you recommend someone who could handle the case for a lower fee?

And if you agree to a fee arrangement, follow the advice of any good lawyer: Get it in writing, says Frishman.

The X factor
Ultimately, you want someone who can take and win your case at a price you can afford. But you also need to find someone who's a comfortable match. "Their personality has to fit with yours," says Lublin.

Last, but not least, "go with your gut," says Frishman. "If you talk to them and it doesn't feel right, it's probably not right."

That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the attorney or you.

"It's a very personal relationship," says Lublin. "People want to feel very comfortable with who they use."

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

-- Posted: May 4, 2005




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