8 Key Steps to Take Before Hiring a Lawyer
Step 1 Before Hiring a Lawer: Figure out what type of attorney you need. If you need a business lawyer, it would probably not be best to hire a personal injury lawyer or a divorce lawyer. Does your problem touch on tax, estate planning, or business matters? If so, it would be best to hire a lawyer that concentrates his or her practice in one or all of those areas of the law.
Step 2 Before Hiring a Lawer: Obtain a “Short-List” of Lawyers that practice in that area of the law. Potential lawyers that concentrate in your practice area may be obtained from the Louisiana State Bar Association. A list of attorneys that are Board Certified Specialists can be obtained from the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization. The Board of Legal Specialization certifies specialists in the areas of Estate Planning and Administration as well as Tax Law. These attorneys have had to pass a second examination (in addition to the bar exam), as well as have at least 5-years of intensive experience in their field of expertise. A list of such attorneys in your geographic area in Louisiana can be found here:
Estate Planning and Administration: Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization Specialists (lsba.org)
Note that it may be a bad idea to ask family and friends and business associates for a referral, since most attorneys specialize in certain areas. For example, the divorce lawyer of a family member or friend may not know the last thing about tax law or qualifying you for Medicaid long-term care benefits, even though many will offer to draft a “simple will”.
Step 3 Before Hiring a Lawyer Contact about three of the lawyers on your list and request a free initial consultation. Some attorneys do not provide a free initial consultation. Be sure to ask. If a free consultation can be provided, schedule an appointment with the attorney at his or her offices.
Step 4 Before Hiring a Lawyer: At some point during the initial consultation, ask the following pointed questions about the lawyer’s expertise:
- “What percentage of your work is in the (tax/estate planning/business law) area? How do you regularly reduce the taxes that you clients have to pay? Do any of those strategies apply to me? “
- If you need estate planning assistance ask: “Are you a Certified Estate Planning and Administration Specialist certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization? How many trusts have you drafted? What types of trusts were they?” Note that some attorneys that draft Last Wills and Testaments on a regular basis rarely if ever draft even simple trusts. “Would you generally recommend a living trust in Louisiana? Under what conditions would you recommend a Living Trust?” If the attorney’s answer is “no”, it may mean the attorney doesn’t now much about trusts. If the attorney’s answer is “definitely yes” the attorney may try to sell you a product. The correct answer is that it depends on the circumstances. “How many “complex” estate plans of over $1 million have you been involved in?” Again, many attorneys that draft Last Wills and Testaments do not have the experience to deal with complex estate matters.
- If you need tax assistance ask: “Are you a Certified Tax Law Specialist certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization? How many years of experience do you have in the tax field? Do you have other advanced degrees or licenses indicating tax expertise, such as having a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in Taxation from an ABA accredited law school, or are you a Certified Public Accountant?” Note that many top estate planning attorneys are also top tax attorneys because complex estates often involve a myriad of tax issues and problems. The two areas are very much intertwined.
- If you need a business lawyer ask: “Would you recommend that my new business be established as a LLC taxed as a partnership or an S corporation, and why?” You can determine the level of sophistication of the lawyer by listening to this answer carefully. If the lawyer gives you a knee-jerk answer such as “LLC is the way to go,” than he may not be considering all important facts. This is because an S corporation is often a better option than an LLC as a means of reducing your self-employment and Medicare tax liabilities. “How can I best structure my business to protect my assets? How many business transactional documents have you drafted, such as complex operating agreements, employment and non-competition agreements, buy-sell agreements, etc.?”
Step 5 Before Hiring a Lawyer: Ask if the attorney will be doing your work himself. If your attorney gives your work to his assistant or paralegal, then why hire the attorney?
Step 6 Before Hiring a Lawyer: If you are satisfied with the above answers, ask about the attorney’s fee schedule, and determine if the fee schedule matches the value of the work you will receive. Keep in mind that a good attorney will regularly request an up-front retainer from new clients before starting work. Additionally, you should choose an attorney who charges fair fees. If the fee is too low, the attorney may be leaving important work out. If the fee is too high, the lawyer may be overcharging you. If the attorney can save you $6,000 per month in nursing home fees for many months or many years, that attorney is worth his weight in gold, and you can expect to pay much more than the attorney that only offers a “simple will” for a few hundred dollars.
Step 7 Before Hiring a Lawyer: Ask your questions about your specific legal situation. Be sure that the lawyer has answered all of your questions. You will not make good decisions if your questions go unanswered.
Step 8 Before Hiring a Lawyer: Ask yourself these additional questions before finally choosing the lawyer: Do you think the attorney will provide excellent service? An attorney that shows some unwillingness to answer all of your questions may not provide the level of service you deserve, or may not be willing to return your phone calls within 24 hours. Consider the intangibles. Do you think that the attorney is honest? Is it an attorney that you think you can get along and “click” with? Don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. The ability of you and the attorney to maintain a good relationship is paramount.
You can BOOK A CALL with Ted anytime to discuss your estate planning, asset protection, probate or tax planning options, and possibly qualify for Medical Long-term care benefits for a fraction of the costs of one month in the nursing home.