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7 things to discuss with your attorney

Want to make sure you get the right attorney? Cover these topics in your consultation -- along with any other special concerns that make your case unique. Ideally, you want an attorney who:

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1. Has experience in your required practice area. Ask: How long have you been in business? How many cases do you handle a year? How many cases do you handle annually in this special practice area? How many cases have you handled like mine? What were the outcomes?

2. Has the right attitude and personality to work with you. You want someone who's willing to answer your questions openly and honestly, says Gayle Rosenwald Smith, author of "Divorce and Money." "Not puffing and saying we can promise you the world. No one can promise you the world in anything."

3. Explains the firm's resources and financial requirements. Is the attorney part of a firm? Who will actually be working on the case and what are their billing rates? Who will be doing the bulk of the work? How large is your staff?

Find out how the fee and billing process works.

Some questions: How do I know what this will cost? Is there a retainer? If so and it's not used, can I get it back? When you talk on the phone, will the lawyer bill actual time or round up? What's the minimum cost for drafting a document? How often do you bill? Is it itemized?

4. Provides some sort of estimate. You need an idea of how much time and money this is going to cost. In some areas, such as divorce, "it's difficult to tell you how long and what it will cost," says Smith. "You can ask, 'Will the case be complex and, if so, how complex?'"

5. Explains the policy on returning calls. Ask: "How much time will elapse before I can expect my calls will be returned?" The attorney should get back to you in 24 hours and, if not, then a staffer should give you a call and let you know why, Smith says.

6. Has knowledge of the local system. Look for someone who knows the local landscape. Ask, "Are you familiar with the judges in this area?" Smith says.

7. Can furnish good references. You can ask for client references. But attorneys won't always be able to give them, says Jay Foonberg, author of "Finding the Right Lawyer."

Still, if you can get names from the lawyer or testimonials from the Web site, call them.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

-- Posted: May 4, 2005




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