Picking a lawyer: three helpful steps

How do you select a lawyer? Before the court decision that voided restrictions against lawyers' advertising, picking one was often like picking beans from a bowl blindfolded.There were few clues. Now you can follow through with at leaset three steps:

1. If you work with or know friends who are knowledgeable about a number of lawyers, ask your friends for references. Most lawyers are experienced in specialties within the broad spectrum of the law. The usual advice to "ask a friend" may not work unless the friend knows lawyers with different specialties and can also appraise relative abilities. You may also ask a banker, but this won't help with legal assistance outside the financial, estate, or trust specialties.

2. Examine the Yellow Pages for lawyers who list their special areas of expertise. For routine legal actions, you might look into a legal clinic.

3. When you have at least two or three possibilities from friends' references or selection by speciality, call for an appointment to talk with the lawyers you have selected. If one is too busy to talk with you, he may be too busy to handle your case. You have two aims during your brief interview: to determine if you and the lawyer can work amiably together and to discuss fees. Don't be intimidated by the receptionist who may discourage your attempts to see the lawyer.

You should reach a clear understanding of cost before agreeing to a lawyer- client relationship. Lawyers do not charge identical fees for their services. But don't be attracted by one willing to take your case for the least hourly rate, either.

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