HOW TO CHOOSE AN ATTORNEY
By R. Scott Alagood
It is very likely at some point everyone will require the services of an attorney. Choosing an attorney can be a complicated and stressful event. Here are a few tips that may assist you in choosing the right attorney.
1. State Bar of Texas. The State Bar of Texas website provides a search for attorneys by name and law firm, geographical area, practice area, specialty certification, specialty services provided, and law school attended. www.TexasBar.com. You can also call toll free at (800) 204-2222. The State Bar operates a statewide referral service. For general information, the State Bar can be extremely helpful.
2. Martindale-Hubble®. Martindale-Hubble® publishes specific information about attorneys who choose to advertise with their service. www.martindale.com. Each listed attorney has the opportunity to be rated by their peers. Martindale’s Peer Review Ratings™ provides an indicator of a lawyer’s high ethical standards and professional ability as determined by other members of the bar and judiciary. The rating is based on a scale of 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. A rating of AV Preeminent® (4.5-5.0) means that peers have ranked the attorney at the highest level of professional excellence and ethical standards. BV Distinguished® (3.0-4.4) is an excellent rating for a lawyer with some experience. Rated® (1.0-2.9) evidences that the lawyer has met a very high criteria of general ethical standards. Not all attorneys are rated, and that simple fact shouldn’t be used to necessarily pass on choosing an unrated attorney. There are well qualified attorneys who simply choose not to advertise with this service. With that said, the Peer Review Rating® system provides a good indication of an attorney’s qualifications and ethical standards.
3. Texas Board of Legal Specialization. While there are over 70,000 attorneys licensed to practice in Texas, only about 7,000 have been recognized as Board Certified® specialists in at least one of twenty-21 areas of the law. www.tbls.org. Board Certified® attorneys are the only attorneys in Texas allowed to represent themselves as a specialist in a select area of the law. The process to become Board Certified® is voluntary and can only occur after an attorney has been licensed for at least five years and has a minimum of three years experience in a particular specialty area. Before an attorney can become Board Certified®, that attorney must have established qualifications reviewed by colleagues and judges familiar with the attorney and the area of specialty, and must have passed all testing required by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in the specialty area. Board Certified® attorneys must reapply for certification every five years. To maintain certification, an attorney must attend additional continuing legal education beyond that required by the State Bar of Texas for licensing. Again, not all attorneys are certified. The sole fact that an attorney is not certified does not mean that such attorney does not possess the requisite experience, skill, and ethical standards to handle a particular matter. However, certification does mean that the attorney has been vetted by other attorneys and judges and is deemed to be an expert in his or her particular field of law.
4. Personal or Business Referrals. Many times, the best information you can achieve in searching for an attorney is through individuals or businesses familiar with a particular attorney or law firm. While referrals are an easy and quick way to find an attorney, care should be taken to make your own evaluation of the referred attorney through each of the three services set forth above, reviewing the attorney’s or firm’s website, and looking at other sources of information on the attorney or firm through a general internet search. Additional on-line information may be found at LinkedIn®, Avvo, Lawyers.com™, FindLaw®, Texas Super Lawyers®, and local bar association websites.
5. Find the Attorney Right for You. Attorneys are as diverse as the people and organizations that they represent. Choose an attorney that fits your budget as well as need. Financial terms should be discussed and completely understood. Be wary of unwritten terms of representation. Ask detailed questions about the attorney’s experience, qualifications, and disciplinary history. Practical implications should be discussed along with legal options. Potential conflicts should be discussed. Ensure that your choice has the time to handle your matter. Find out how they will correspond with you. Ask how soon they will return phone calls or e-mails. No question is dumb. Attorneys are people who bring their own experiences and personalities into any representation. Hire one that fits you and your legal needs.
R. Scott Alagood is board certified in Commercial and Residential Real Estate Law by the Texas Board of Specialization and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.