Thursday, August 27, 2015

A judge's view: Take care when picking an attorney

Can you recommend a good lawyer? It’s a question we judges get asked frequently, probably because we are in a position to see a lot of attorneys.

Although we definitely have our opinions on which attorneys are at the top of their game, our judicial ethics rules forbid us from recommending specific lawyers or referring business to anyone. We have to remain fair and not play favorites, as difficult as that might be.

So how should you choose a lawyer? In a smaller community, the best source of information probably is still word of mouth. If a friend or co-worker used an attorney, ask if they would recommend that person. If you know an attorney who specializes in a different area of law, that person still might have someone they could recommend.

There are a variety of websites that offer attorney reviews, as well, but you should take the write-ups with a grain (or shaker) of salt. Typically, an angry person is more likely to write than a happy one, and sometimes lawyers get blamed for things completely outside of their control. However, if you see patterns in the reviews — such as not responding to phone calls, missing court appearances or blowing deadlines — that might be a good indicator of an attorney struggling to stay afloat.

The most important consideration in choosing an attorney is that you feel comfortable talking to that person. Lawyers have different styles, and one approach is not necessarily better than another. You will be sharing some highly personal information with your legal counsel, so you should be able to relate to him or her on a personal level and be able to have open, frank conversations.Most attorneys are willing to sit down with you for an initial consultation free of charge where they can give you some feedback on your case and give you an idea of how they would approach your representation.

Ask how long it takes them to return phone calls or emails, find out how many cases like yours they have handled and see if they’ll provide any references. And, of course, find out upfront how much the attorney will charge you for services, how often you will be billed, and what other expenses might be involved in your case so there are no surprises.Most attorneys or their law firms will have a website where you can learn more about their experience, background and areas of expertise.

Finally, if an attorney has received public discipline, that information is available on the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board site at The site provides links to Minnesota Supreme Court decisions imposing public discipline, which can provide more information about the specific facts of the discipline. There also is a current list of suspended or disbarred attorneys so you can make sure a person is properly licensed.

We are fortunate to have many competent attorneys in northern Minnesota, so you should have several good options to guide you through the legal process.

Dale Harris is a 6th Judicial District judge in the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth. 

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A judge's view: Take care when picking an attorney

1 comment:

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