In this article, Shreyanshi Maheshwari of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA discusses how to hire a good lawyer. This is one question that always comes to a person’s mind when he/she is in a need to hire a lawyer for him/her. This article is providing a solution to hire a good lawyer.
If you are looking to hire a lawyer, you’ll find no shortage of legal talent. India holds 18% of the world’s population and 0.1% approx 1.3 million of it are lawyers as per a right to information (RTI) response by the Bar Council of India (BCI) to Delhi-based advocate Kush Kalra, with an average annual growth rate between 2007 and 2011 of around 4 percent.
There are so many advocates out there practicing law in courts on a daily basis. With so many lawyers out there, it becomes more important that you choose a right one for you. But how will you choose a right one for you or how will you get to know that the one you have chosen is right for you? Choosing a wrong advocate can be disastrous, so you must do a good and quality research before choosing an advocate for you. This article will give you an idea that what all points you should keep in your mind while searching for an advocate for yourself.
Who is an Advocate?
An advocate is a professional in the field of law who fights on your behalf using ethical, reasonable and cost-effective means. He is a person learned in law and have a license to practice law. In India, the term “lawyer” is often used in place of “advocate”, but the official term is “advocate” as prescribed under section 2(1)(a) of The Advocates Act, 1961.
For the definition of “advocate” under The Advocates Act, 1961 (see here).
Types of Advocates
Section 16 of The Advocates Act, 1961 states that there shall be two classes of advocates, that is, senior advocates and other advocates. If the Supreme Court or a High Court wants to designate a lawyer as a senior advocate because of the opinion that by the virtue of his ability [standing at the Bar or experience in law or special knowledge] he deserves such distinction that they can do so with his consent.
For Section 16 of The Advocates Act, 1961 (see here)
The Advocates Act, 1961 has a provision for two classes of advocates, that is, senior advocates and other advocates. However, the Supreme Court in the exercise of its rulemaking power made a provision for the third class of advocates, that is, advocate on record.
How to hire a good Lawyer – Question to ask yourself before hiring an Advocate
Do I need a Lawyer?
I. Interpret your problem carefully before thinking of hiring a lawyer.
Start with the basic question “Do I need a lawyer?”. Sometimes it’s good if you know that is there a need to find an advocate for yourself or not. If a lawsuit is filed against you, or you are charged with some crime, or if you need a divorce, then, it’s good to have an advocate for yourself. Advocates are not just for criminals or for the ones stuck in the litigation process. Qualified Lawyers also provides advice and knowledge to the people who just want to talk to them as an expert or an adviser.
II. Ask yourself and people around you that is it possible and reasonable to solve the problem on your own.
Many times, you may be able to solve the matter on your own without any advocate’s help. For example, if an online company has done wrong with you, so if it has a customer care helpline, you can talk to them regarding your grievance. On the other hand, sometimes it’s better to take an advocate’s advice as they protect you from contacting the wrong person so that you don’t do something that will hurt your case later.
III. Determine how important your situation is
If you are charged with a crime or if you are in a legal suit as a defendant, there is an immediate need to contact an advocate. Even in cases where your right is infringed and you are injured you should seek advice from an advocate as soon as possible, as delaying may jeopardize your right to seek relief in the court of law.
Even if you are seeking legal help merely to avoid future problems, it’s never too early to start up your legal search for an advocate.
What qualities should you look for in your potential Advocate?
The first and foremost quality is that you should feel comfortable in the presence of your advocate. A comfortable and frank relationship helps you in sharing the relevant information about your case openly, honestly and completely. A lawyer can’t assist you without knowing each and every detail related to the case.
Before going to a meeting with the advocate you should do a research about the advocate on the internet. You should go through the online reviews and comments about the advocate’s services. So you should look for a person whose records relating to his services are good and that there are no complaints, misconduct charges, or malpractice accusations against him.
It’s not essential to find a person who is an expert in your particular field but it’s better if you find a person who is either specialized in your field or hold some kind of experience in the field that your problem is connected to. For say if you have a business related problem than its better to find a person who has specialization in business law rather than going for a person who has the maritime law as his/her specialization.
Be sure that the advocate is willing to understand your problem. Whether your problem is big or small but the lawyer should understand what you expect out of him and what is your vision for the future of your case.
Ability to communicate
You should look for a person who can make you understand each and every word that he is speaking and the one who uses a language that is easy for his clients to understand. If the advocate is speaking in the legal language and is least bother to explain the terms that he/she is using then you should probably look for some other person. How to hire a good Lawyer is a difficult to answer question, however, the folllowing discussed points might help you in making an informed choice.
You should look for a person who is available for you when you need him. The advocate should be available for meetings at your convenience, not according to his/hers. He should quickly reply back to the emergency calls or messages.
Your advocate should be a person with whom you can get along with. Good relationship ensures a better relationship and more positive results in future.
A reasonable and clear fee structure
Fees of advocates fluctuate according to location, size, and prestige of the advocate or his/her firm as well as advocates experience. A good advocate is clear, honest and reasonable with his/her fee structure. So you should look for a person who charges you a price worth the case.
Questions to ask your potential Advocate
I. How long have you been practicing law?
The first question that you should ask any advocate before hiring is that what is his expertise and whether he is a long-serving advocate or just a beginner. Who can handle your legal issues better it all depends on the case and circumstances. But, it’s for you to decide whom you want to hire as your advocate, the one with the experience or the one who is fresh out of a law school.
II. What type of cases do you generally handle? What percentage of your practice deals with the (practice area to which the client’s problem is concerned)?
You should also know the advocate’s expertise and what amount of his work deals with the area that your legal issue is concerned with. For example, if you need help with a case related to your company than your priority may be to seek a corporate lawyer who has worked on similar corporate cases.
III. Who are your regular clients?
This is an important question that is often overlooked by the clients while hiring advocates for them. For example, if you have a legal issue related to adoption but the advocate that you are meeting with represents only corporations, then he/she may not be the best choice for you.
IV. How many similar cases to mine you have represented?
This is not the time to sit back and act shyly. You must feel free to ask about the past record of the advocate that how many similar cases to yours he has handled and what number of cases he had won or settled.
V. What special training or knowledge other than your law school degree you possess that might help in my case?
Cases like DUI and patent cases requires specialization and knowledge for effective representation of the case. Ensure that your case fits into the category that the advocate holds specialized training or knowledge in.
VI. What is your fees and costs, and what is the billing procedure? Who will handle my case?
It’s important for you to know that whether or not you’ll be able to afford the advocate’s services and what is the procedure in which you are required to pay. You must also ask for the payment options available.
It’s also important for you to ask who’ll handle your case. Whether a portion or whole of the case will be handled by paralegals or legal assistants. If yes, then ask to reduce the costs.
VII. Are there any other means to solve my legal issue?
You should ask the advocate that whether or not there are any other means such as arbitration or some other out of the court settlement through which your legal issue can be solved. A good and ethical lawyer will always inform you about the less expensive and time-consuming means if available.
VIII. What are the probable outcomes of my case?
Advocates are no fortune tellers so they will never guarantee a specific result. However, they should be able enough to tell you the likely outcome of your case through its preliminary assessment.
IX. What will be your strategy in my case?
An advocate should provide an outline of the possible ways in which the case can be handled and then explain that why they have chosen a particular plan, with all its positives and negatives.
X. How long will this case take?
While discussing the strategy of the case, the advocate should give you an estimated time in which the case will get resolved. You should keep in mind that the advocates don’t control the speed of the process and therefore they can’t make any promises regarding when the case will get over.
XI. How will we communicate with each other?
You should have a comfortable client-attorney relation from the beginning and that you will communicate to each other on a regular basis. Make sure to exchange your contact information and decide the ways in which the communication will take place.
XII. What is my role in the preparation of the case?
It is very important to figure out that what are the things that you should and should not be doing to help your advocate. For example, many times you are capable to provide documents and background information, but your advocate will usually tell you to not speak to the witnesses or do any legal work with respect to the case. You should know how you can help and you should make sure to follow the instructions given by your advocate.
What to do if you do not have the financial capacity to hire a top-notch lawyer? How to find a good lawyer in such cases?
Whether you want to create a will or you want to get a divorce, it’s always advisable to take care of legal matters with the help of a lawyer. In legal matters, you need someone who understands the laws prevailing in your state to help you with the paperwork and to appear with you in the court. But how to find a good lawyer when you don’t have the financial capacity hire one. Lawyers can be very expensive, but there are several ways in which you can hire a decent lawyer if you have low income. You can contact a legal aid society, find an independent pro bono lawyer, or arrange a payment plan that works for your budget.
Method 1- Finding free legal help
Look into state-funded legal aid programs
There are a large number of legal aid programs that are being operated on State grants. Legal aid programs employ lawyers and paralegals to offer free legal services to the people who are eligible to avail them. To qualify for availing legal aid, your income must be below a certain amount. The definition of “low income” may vary from state to state. In some of the States, it should be below the state poverty line.
Find a local pro bono program
Free legal help through pro bono programs is often offered by the Bar Associations. People who qualify for free legal advice are matched to the Lawyers who are willing to work for free or on ‘pro bono’ basis. There are various non-profit organizations who are working to provide free legal help to the one in need. In order to qualify for such program, you may be asked to prove that your income is below a certain amount. These programs are also offered by local Bar associations and private law firms.
Contact a self-help legal clinic
Free self-help clinics are designed in many states to provide for free legal advice to anyone who asks. Some of the clinics accept questions in person, while others ask it to be submitted online. The questions that are answered either by the Lawyers or by Paralegals. In most of the cases, the process is kept confidential. Self-help legal clinics are good if you want your question to be answered and your queries regarding the procedure or methods in which you have to proceed with your case to be answered. However, it does not provide you with a lawyer who can help you with your case.
Call a legal hotline
People in specific situations such as victims of domestic abuse can take advice from legal hotlines. Sometimes, the advice is free of cost and sometimes they charge a very low fee. You can search for a legal hotline in your state, and find one that will appropriate advice to you in your situation.
Look for a local law school that is having a legal clinic offering free legal services
Legal clinics are being run by many law schools in order to give the students a practical experience of the profession. These law schools clinic can take up general civil or criminal matters or take up a particular type of matter, such as a domestic violence clinic. In these clinics, legal help is generally offered by the law students under the supervision of experienced law professors. The law students are no licensed advocates but are supervised by their experienced law professors who make sure that everything on the case is done correctly.
Get a Lawyer appointed by Court
If you are accused in a criminal case, you have a right to an advocate. If you can’t afford to hire a private advocate, you may get a court-appointed defense advocate. You are needed to provide information about your income in order to show that you are unable to hire a private advocate.
Method 2- Finding a suitable payment plan for yourself
Look for a sliding-fee program
If your income is too high to qualify for free legal services that you may opt for a sliding-fee program with affordable advocate fees. This program is designed by each State to help people with moderate income handle issues without having to pay a huge sum of money. You can find such program in your State by contacting your State’s bar association or by searching online.
Work out a payment plan with an advocate
Some lawyers will work out a payment plan so that you are not needed to pay all the fees at once. You may opt for a plan to pay in installments or on monthly basis until the amount you owe has been paid. It depends on the will of an advocate that he wants to provide for such payment plan or not. Before going to an advocate’s office you should contact him/her and ask whether he/she will accept a payment plan.
Decide whether you can pay a contingency fee or not
A contingency fee means that you have to pay the advocate only when the result of the case is in your favor. If the case is lost you don’t need to pay the advocate’s fee. Contingency fee arrangement percentage may vary but 30-40% is common. However, in this arrangement, you may be responsible for expenses even if you do not owe fees. Make it clear with the advocate that you are responsible for what expenses.
Consider hiring a young advocate
Young advocates who are new to the profession are up to date with the current legal developments, but they may have less number of clients. This means that they have much more time to devote to your case. They may also charge less as they are less in demand as they have few years of experience. Young lawyers are also in a need to make their name in the profession. Therefore, they spend a lot of energy to represent you as efficiently as they can.
Consider paying in property or barter
Payment can also be accepted by a lawyer in the form of a property, as long as that property is not a part of the case you are asking him/her to take up. Many lawyers do accept barter services, such as web design or accounting, in exchange for their representation. But make sure to get the property/barter agreements in writing with all the terms clear.
Method 3 – Consider the hiring process
Interview several options
Try to interview several candidates to represent you. Irrespective of your low income, you are entitled to representation that you believe serves your interest in the best possible way. You should be comfortable with your advocate and interview them before hiring them helps you determine that. You should ask about the fees and payment procedure, ask who will do the work, ask about his/her qualifications, etc. and accordingly make your decision.
You should ask questions about the arrangement
You should have a clear understanding of the terms on which you are hiring the advocate. In other words, you should know that, what they will do for you? What if they are unable to resolve the case in the way you desire it to be resolved? What will you pay? And what will be the method of payment? Clarify what exactly you will be charged for.
Agree to a set rate
A set rate means that you know what amount you need to pay and when you have to pay it. So, if a rate is fixed you can proceed with the case with some relaxation in your mind. Be sure to clarify any hidden expenses at this rate. Usually, the client is responsible for such expenses.
Offer to do work that you can do yourself
Some of the expenses can be avoided if you yourself take over the charge of some work that you can do yourself such as, copying, the filing of papers, etc. Ask your attorney if he/she can allow you to volunteer when possible to cut costs.
Method 4 – Avoid bad lawyers
Most of the advocates are genuine and ethical providing good representations to their clients, but there are always a few who are looking for an opportunity to scam you or to cheat you. Keep a proper check of this while choosing a lawyer for you.
Don’t hire a lawyer who has solicited you
You should not hire a lawyer who has contacted you without your permission or expressed interest. It is against the professional code and conduct of the lawyers to contact you if you have not expressed interest in his/her service, or given him a permission to contact you. Do not hire an advocate who pressurizes you to enter into any sort of agreement with him.
Enquire about the lawyer’s background and credentials
You should verify your lawyer’s background with the local or state bar association. You can verify the information that your lawyer has provided you and check whether he/she has any record of ethics violations or disciplinary actions against him/her. If any record of that sort is available against him/her, you should avoid hiring him/her.
Avoid hiring an unethical advocate
If an advocate encourages you to do something illegal or unethical, avoid hiring him. Never choose to hire an advocate who makes unethical offers themselves. Also, try to avoid lawyers who make promises about a specific result for your case if you hire him/her.
There are situations in everyone’s life when there is an urgent need for legal help. In India, finding, selecting, and hiring of an advocate who is perfect to represent you or advice you is an art in itself. There are several situations from criminal prosecution to divorce when advocates come into the picture. An advocate is a person who gets you justice. Therefore, it is very important for you to choose the right advocate for yourself.
This was all about how to hire a good lawyer. What are your thoughts on how to hire a good lawyer? Comment below and share your views with us.