Need a Good Lawyer? Where Do You Look?
Florida Realtors Legal Hotline often tells callers that their situation requires the services of a lawyer. But how do you find a lawyer? And how can you be sure you hired a good one?
ORLANDO, Fla. – How do you find the right lawyer when you need one? Here’s a summary of informal responses we share when members call the Florida Realtors Legal Hotline.
For most people, shopping for a lawyer is a rare occurrence. It can be daunting to try and figure out who to call, what to ask, and what the best next step might be. Here are a few tips about finding the right person for the job.
Get a referral
The best tip is to try and get a personal recommendation from a lawyer (or someone who works with lawyers) whose judgment you trust. Like real estate, the law is a reputation-based profession. A lawyer who is plugged into the local scene should be able to recommend one or more lawyers who can provide the services you need that match your budget.
If you don’t know anyone in the legal profession who can share a referral, local bar associations usually have a list of attorneys and their specialties that can give you a head start. Local bar associations can be found by typing the name of your county + “bar association” into a search engine. Some bar associations are affiliated with a city or specialty, but since counties are more common, it’s a good place to start.
Check their experience
Ideally, your local attorney friend will do this as part of sharing a referral but, if not, find out what kind of experience they have. I hope this goes without saying, but please make sure the experience has been largely successful. Sometimes, mediocre attorneys can represent many clients despite poor to middling performance.
Also, make sure they have experience that matches your specific issue. For example, the tool set required for success can vary quite a bit if you compare arguing in front of a judge vs. a jury vs. a panel of Realtors at a local board hearing. There are also certain designations lawyers can achieve that signal a certain amount of experience, so feel free to look into any accreditations or additional degrees a lawyer may have.
Hire the right type of lawyer
There’s just one type of law license, although lawyers tend to specialize. Here are a few of the common categories we discuss with members. Before we jump in, some lawyers do a little bit of everything, and they’re called general practitioners. It may be the only type of lawyer you find in a small town, and there are still some lawyers who practice in diverse areas of law.
Criminal work is the easiest to describe – prosecutors work for the state bringing cases against alleged criminals, while criminal defense attorneys represent people charged with crimes. Of course, there can be subspecialties, such as white-collar criminal defense, lawyers who specialize in DUI cases, or even firms that specializes in traffic tickets.
Some lawyers are transactional lawyers who don’t go to court often, if at all. A typical real estate attorney falls into this category. They negotiate and draft contracts, represent people in title matters, represent condominium associations or HOAs, and act as closing agents for real estate transactions. This is what I did for a few years, and we were affectionately (I think) referred to as “dirt lawyers” by litigators in the firm. Some real estate lawyers also go to court as part of their practice, so it’s worth noting that all of these are loose categories just to give an idea of certain specialties.
Another type of transactional lawyer is one who focuses on estate planning work. They can set up trusts, handle probate matters, and advise on the best ways to hold assets. They can provide an invaluable service if consulted before making decisions about major purchases like real estate. They may also help with probate after someone passes away.
A litigator is a broad label that just means a lawyer who represents people in active cases. They know how to prepare a case and go to court (or arbitration) on behalf of their clients. They may settle a lot of cases without ending up in court, but the practice centers around one party vs. another. There are many different types of litigation specialties, so checking their experience is key.
There are many more specialties, such as family law, immigration law, and intellectual property law, but the main categories mentioned so far are the ones that come up most often on the Florida Realtors Legal Hotline.
This may not be the most important item on the list, but it’s worth mentioning: Not all lawyers are the same, and there’s rarely a simple single path to resolve any legal issue. You may want to make sure your approach to the issue is in sync with what your lawyer has to offer. Do you want an aggressive bulldog, or would you prefer a cautious approach? Does your lawyer timely respond to all inquiries, or are they juggling a busy caseload? Are they gentle and considerate or strictly business?
If you’ve narrowed down your choices of attorney, you may want to chat with them to get a feel for their personality and ask what path they would recommend for your issue. Sometimes, the advice may be identical, but it’s not uncommon for attorneys to recommend slightly different paths. You’re the client, so at the end of the day it’s your decision who to hire and how to guide their representation.
Joel Maxson is Associate General Counsel for Florida Realtors
Note: Information deemed accurate on date of publication
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