For most people, the legal profession is both intimidating and inscrutable. The idea they would need to interview a prospective attorney to determine whether they are qualified to take their case or not is a confusing concept. Shouldn’t the attorney know their profession? Shouldn’t they be able to qualify or disqualify themselves?
Not necessarily. Lawyers are just like any other profession. They need clients to stay in business, especially if they are running their practice. Attorneys have been known on occasion to take cases they might not otherwise accept so they can pay their bills. As with any purchase, the old maxim “buyer beware” holds true.
So what can you do to make sure your attorney is qualified?
1. Bar Association
Even if you are confident your attorney knows their stuff, it never hurts to check with your local or state Bar. This association is dedicated to maintaining standards for the practice of law, and every attorney is required to be a member in good standing. It is illegal to practice law unless you are a member of the Bar. Business attorneys in Chicago would be members of the Illinois State Bar Association.
The Bar Association will also be able to tell you if your prospective attorney has had any ethics inquiries or disputes with clients before. All of this information is public record and available on request from nearly any Bar Association in the country.
2. Type of Law
If you or your business are planning to file a lawsuit and take your case to trial, it is always a good idea to ask what kind of litigator an attorney is before you agree to let them represent you and your case. There is a very big difference between administrative law and trial law. A vanishingly small percentage of attorneys are effective litigators. As any of the litigators at Roth Fioretti would tell you, arguing a case before a jury is a far different prospect from fighting a case through motions and paperwork.
Although you can’t obtain a list of your attorney’s past clients because of client-attorney privilege, you can get records of the cases they’ve argued before a jury. If you consider your case important enough, it won’t hurt to review some of their past verdicts to see how they fared at trial. You don’t necessarily have to read entire transcripts, but knowing what courts they have appeared before and what verdicts they earned could be helpful in the long run.
3. Accurate Assessment
Make sure your prospective attorney wants to represent your business. Often when interviewing lawyers, you’ll find they will try to discourage you from pursuing claims. If you find your future lawyer arguing against your vision and trying to talk you out of a case or offering alternatives just for the sake of being contrary, it’s a pretty safe bet they aren’t going to put a full effort into advocating for your interests. These are obviously the lawyers you will want to avoid. Find someone who is as excited about your business as you are.
Ultimately, hiring an attorney is no different than hiring any other kind of professional. Make sure they are qualified, and then make sure they are as dedicated to your business as you are. If you find someone who meets both requirements, stick with them. They are rare exceptions.