Bar shopping - How to find the right lawyer at the right price

Monday, February 28, 2005

Say you have a grievance and you're going to sue. Or maybe you're the one who has been sued. You need a lawyer.

Finding good legal representation takes some time and effort. The most frequently mentioned way of finding a lawyer is to ask people to recommend one. Amy Whitman of the Missouri Bar Association recommends that method.

"Talk to people you trust," she said. "Ask a clergyman, someone in authority. There's just no better way than that."

Local lawyer Scott Reynolds said that's good advice. He also advises taking the time to interview lawyers to determine whether or not the client feels comfortable with him.

"In a town like Cape Girardeau, if you ask friends and family you're going to get pretty good feedback about whether or not a certain attorney is any good," he said. "If you ask enough people you'll get a good idea of that attorney's reputation."

Although the Bar Association cautions that lawyers don't specialize, there are some lawyers who work in some areas more than others. Reynolds suggests checking the Yellow Pages.

"The ads tell something about an attorney, the type of law he practices, how long he has been in practice," he said. "I would go in and meet and talk to more than one attorney. Find someone you're comfortable with, someone who is honest with you about fee arrangements as well as the likelihood of success on your case. Find someone who won't make unrealistic expectations."

Shopping for a lawyer does not waste a lawyer's time, he said. Lawyers' fees can vary widely, and it makes sense to find someone in your price range who has the area of expertise you need. Most lawyers don't charge for an initial consultation.

"On any given week 15 or 20 people may come in and talk about a case," he said. "I'll probably get a third of them who hire me."

Reynolds advises asking up front about fee arrangements, if there will be other fees added to the initial retainer fee, the lawyer's background and experience in the kind of case the client wants to pursue.

Reynolds, who has been in practice for 15 years, also advises to find a lawyer whom other lawyers and judges respect.

The Missouri Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service in Jefferson City can refer individuals to lawyers. The service is available Monday through Friday at (573) 636-3635.

Sharon Weedin, a lawyer with the state's Office of the Chief Disciplinary Council, said that office can tell the public if a lawyer has a disciplinary history.

"We're able to refer any public disciplines a lawyer has accumulated in the course of his career, but we're only able to give out public disciplines. We can't tell people how many complaints we get, only the type and date of public discipline," she said. "I would rather hire a lawyer who has no public discipline than one who has been suspended in the past and has one or two public reprimands."

The Office of Chief Disciplinary Council's phone number is (573) 635-7400. When the voice mail responds, press 0 and ask the operator for Weedin.

Weedin said potential clients can go one step further and access www.courts.mo.gov/casenet/base/welcome.d... to see if a lawyer has been sued or for any malpractice complaints. Case.net is operated by the Office of Courts Administration and tracks all currently active criminal and civil cases.

"That would be interesting to me," Wibben said, "to know whether or not a lawyer has been sued."

An Internet search may turn up Web sites that will refer lawyers, but Weedin suggests services she knows to be legitimiate. "The Missouri Bar runs a legitimate service, and the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association runs a legitimate service," she said. "Others around the state run by bar associations are good bets."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

336-6611, extension 160

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