“The man who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Abraham Lincoln, often credited for authoring the epigraph for this paper, was a lawyer before he ever became the sixteenth President of the United States. The late President’s pithy statement is directed at those who choose to represent themselves in a court of law, and his message to such individuals is quite simple: do not do that. But why not? After all, hiring a lawyer is often expensive and time consuming. Moreover, it seems highly implausible that a complete stranger could tell your own, personal story better than you could. The reality of the situation, however, is that going to court is often an overwhelming experience. Not only must you navigate your way through the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the American legal system, but you must also abide by the various, minute rules and regulations that each courthouse has. That is why the first step an individual should take when they are setting out to go to court is to find a lawyer. However, this matter proves to be much more easier said than done. How do you go about finding the “right” lawyer? This article will venture to answer this question.
If there is one thing the United States is not lacking, it is lawyers. An Internet search of law offices in your area will most likely produce hundreds of results that range from large law firms to solo practitioners. This, I believe, is quite often why seeking a lawyer can be such a daunting task for some. The first step you should take in narrowing your search is to identify the type of lawyer you need. There is a type of lawyer for just about every aspect of life. Are you experiencing mistreatment and / or discrimination in the workplace? Then seek an employment lawyer. Are you worried about potentially going to prison for something questionable you (allegedly) did? Then seek a criminal lawyer. Are you frightened that your treacherous ex-business partner is going to copy the inventions / designs that you painstakingly came up with? Seek an intellectual property lawyer. It is important for you to take a step back, identify your issue, and then find a type of lawyer that deals in such issues.
The next step in narrowing your search is location. Let us suppose that you identify your issue and then come across a lawyer with extensive experience (and an impressive record) in handling matters similar to yours. You then notice that this paragon of law resides in New York, while you live in Texas. Should you hire her? This answer varies, but more often leans towards the negative. Ideally, assuming you live in Texas, you would want a lawyer who practices in Texas. There are various reasons underlying this: a Texas lawyer is licensed to practice in Texas; she may know the judge assigned to your case and how they operate; and, perhaps most importantly, she knows Texas law. The New York lawyer, more than likely, does not know Texas law. This means that you will have to pay for all of the research this New York lawyer engages in learning Texas law. In other words, hiring a Texas lawyer would save you a significant amount in expenses.
Once you’ve narrowed your search to type and location, the last step is to identify a firm and set up a consult. Consults vary in price from firm to firm, but they allow you to get a sense of the attorney. This is important because you will be working with this individual for months or, potentially, years. Consults allow you to gauge your potential relationship with this attorney and determine whether this is the person that you want telling your story.
Finding the right attorney ultimately comes down to identifying a lawyer who handles the type of issue you are dealing with, who is located within your state, and who you feel you could have a working relationship with. This, I believe, is the key to finding the right attorney. The process may be time consuming and, at times, daunting, but well worth it given the intricacies of the modern courthouse. And to those wishing to go against the grain and brave the courthouse steps on their own, I have but one message for you: Best of luck.