5 questions to ask before hiring a personal or business lawyer

By | May 11, 2012 | Finance & Career

5 questions to ask before hiring a personal or business lawyer

Before hiring a personal or business lawyer to guide you, your family or your business, ask these five questions to ensure that you don’t end up paying a whole lot of money for services that are not what you need, expect or want. Hiring an attorney does not have to be a fearful experience. Instead, it can be the most empowered decision you ever make for yourself.

1.   How do you bill for your services?

There is no need to be afraid to talk with your lawyer about how he/she bills for the work they will do on your behalf. In fact, when you first call a lawyer’s office, this is one of the very first questions you should ask. No one wants surprises!

If when you call the attorney’s office, they will not give you any information about how they charge for their services or any expectation of what things will cost, beware you could be in for some big surprises about what things cost down the road.

Look for a lawyer who bills all of their services on a flat-fee, project basis and never on an hourly basis, unless required to by the Court for limited purposes. In every event, be sure the lawyer you choose promises to never send you an unexpected bill in the mail for quick phone calls or emails.

2.   How are you able to be responsive to my needs on an ongoing basis?

One of the biggest complaints people have about working with a lawyer is that lawyers are notorious for not being responsive. In fact, I’ve heard of situations in which clients have gone weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer.

This generally happens when a lawyer does not have enough administrative support in his or her office. Far too many lawyers believe they can take care of everything in and around their office themselves, from paperwork to client meetings to calendaring to returning phone calls to connecting with their clients other advisors, the list goes on and on. Truth is, a lawyer who is a true solo practitioner without administrative support or in a firm without adequate support will become overwhelmed and non-responsive to your needs.

You can and should ask your lawyer how he or she will respond to your ongoing needs, how quickly calls are returned in the office, if there is someone on hand to answer quick questions and if you should expect to get right through to your lawyer when you call the office.

A great way to test this is to call your prospective lawyer’s office and ask for him or her. If you get put right through or even worse sent to a voicemail, think twice about hiring this lawyer because it means they do not have effective systems in place for managing and responding to calls or answering your quick questions. Instead, what you want is for the person answering the phone or another team member to offer to help you and if he or she cannot then to schedule a call for you to talk with your lawyer at a future date and time when he or she will be ready to focus on your matter.

Your lawyer cannot be effective and efficient if he or she is taking every call that comes through to him or her. All calls should be pre-scheduled when you are both ready and your lawyer can focus on your specific needs.

3.   How will you proactively communicate with me on an ongoing basis?

Unfortunately, most lawyers do a horrible job of proactively communicating with their clients on an ongoing basis. The general thinking in the legal industry is that legal work is transactional in nature and clients will call when something changes. But, this is faulty thinking and in my opinion just pure laziness on the part of lawyers.

You want to look for a lawyer who will proactively communicate with you at least quarterly by mail via an informative, easy to read newsletter and monthly by email. I prefer to hear from the professionals I work with monthly by mail and weekly by email, but progress can only happen so fast.

If you are considering hiring a lawyer who does not proactively communicate with his or her clients, think again. This lawyer might be stuck in an old, outdated mindset that won’t serve your needs in the best possible way.

4.   Can I call about any legal problem I have or just about matters within your specialty?

In today’s complex world, lawyers must have specialized training in one or more specific practice areas, such as divorce, bankruptcy, wills & trusts, estates, personal injury, business, criminal matters or employment. You definitely do NOT want to be working with a lawyer who professes to be an expert in whatever walks through the door. However, you do want your personal lawyer and/or business lawyer to have a broad enough expertise that you can consult with your lawyer on all sorts of legal or financial issues that come up in your life and he or she will be able to guide you right.

Trust me, you probably don’t want the lawyer who designed your estate plan to also handle your personal injury claim, your dispute with your landlord and advise you on your divorce, but you do want him or her to be there to hear your story, find you the exact right lawyer and be available as a consultant to you. That way, you can call you personal lawyer before signing legal documents (even loan documents), any time you have a legal or financial issue, or whenever anything that could affect your family or business adversely comes up and know you’ll get great guidance.

Look for a lawyer who has an ongoing service program or membership program in place so that you can pay a low monthly fee and be able to call with all of your legal and financial questions without being charged hourly for the consultation. And be sure that when you call, you’ll get to schedule time to talk with your own personal lawyer who you know and trust and not get passed off to one of any number of lawyers who happen to work in the office and may not know who you are or what’s important to you.

5. What happens if you die or retire?

This is a critically important question to ask any service professional when beginning a relationship and a question that is far too often overlooked. Sure, it may feel uncomfortable to ask, but a truly excellent, client-centered service provider will have in place a plan to ensure their clients are taken care of no matter what happens to the lawyer in the future.

Answers you want to look for here are that your lawyer has a clear plan in place for someone warm and caring to take over your matter without providing any interruption of service to you. If your lawyer prepared a will, trust and other estate planning documents for you, or you are in the middle of a divorce or lawsuit, you want to ensure your lawyer has a plan in place so you won’t need to start everything over from scratch. And, if you are on a membership program with your lawyer, you’ll want to make sure he or she has a relationship with a lawyer or network of lawyers who can continue to service you under that program.

When you ask these five questions before hiring a lawyer for any type of legal matter, you will know you are engaging a trusted advisor who will help you to make the very best decisions for you, your family and your business.

Spread the word!
  • 99
  • 99

Alexis Neely

Alexis Neely is the bestselling author of the book, Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, and the creator of KidsProtectionPlan.com, the only site where you can name legal guardians for your kids for free online and do it the right way with ease.

tell us what you think


KentClark1 November 18, 2014 at 6:34 pm

My wife is pregnant, but she doesn’t expect that to end her career when she has our baby. She has a thriving business, and I doubt that things will change once we are raising our kid. However, she won’t have time to keep up with all of the laws. She will be looking for a lawyer for her company soon. I will be sure to give her this information to her during her hiring journey.

kelseyhiggins February 25, 2015 at 6:47 pm

I have an uncle who is looking into hiring a personal lawyer, though he is concerned about the responsiveness of them. He has several friends with lawyers who are notorious for taking weeks to call back, and he doesn’t want to invest in someone who is not readily available to help him! Hopefully, if he takes his time researching, he will be able to find one who is responsible and readily available to him!

JamesSimon1 March 18, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Alexis, I like that you mention asking about their billing. I would say that this is the most important part. Usually with personal injury, you’re going to court to try and win money to pay for procedures that you will need. If the attorney charges too much, you might find that at the end of all the hassle you’ll barely have anything to show for it.

CaseyJones1 April 2, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for the tips on hiring a lawyer.  I really liked the point you made asking about how their services will be billed.  You don’t want any surprises down the road on how billing works.  Right now I am searching for a car accident lawyer and will use the tips you provided to help me on my search!

tedsmith575 April 3, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Thank you so much for the tips on how to select my business lawyer. I like the tip to meet with the lawyer in person. That way you can see what it is like to work with them as you talk. I will definitely do that while I search more my lawyer. Does anyone know of any lawyers that I could call? I would really appreciate any suggestions.

LaceyRockwell1 August 18, 2015 at 10:13 am

My husband and I run a business. We have had a few little legal issues in the past few months, and I think we need to hire a lawyer. It would just have to be someone that we could call when we have problems like that. We would need to find someone who is acquainted with lots of situations that we could possibly deal with. 


JackMoore89 October 16, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Too many people are afraid of asking questions when they speak with a layer, especially about money, because they are worried about seeming stingy. But it’s important, and depending on what it is they’re being hired for, you can end up paying a lot. Anytime you pay that much for anything, lawyers included, always make sure you know as much about it as possible.

silasknight1 June 23, 2016 at 12:41 pm

These are some great questions to ask a lawyer before hiring them. I had never thought to ask about how they will communicate with me, I like that. I would love to hear from the lawyer every month, or even every week, like you said.

{ 1 trackback }