Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Finding and/or choosing a lawyer or other professional

Earlier this morning I sent information to a potential/prospective client regarding how to find and/or choose a lawyer. There are some articles on this subject, but not an abundance of information. Consequently, I'd like to share my general thoughts.

As an initial matter, I always encourage potential clients to conduct due diligence on any professional whom they're considering, whether it's a builder, a CPA, a doctor, an engineer, a financial professional, or a lawyer. A professional's or their company's website is a good starting point. Specific to lawyers, however, two primary ratings systems exist: Martindale-Hubbell and Avvo.

For example, here are Destin's local lawyers listing "Estate Planning" as a self-described practice area, with the peer review rating being the one that Martindale-Hubbell has conducted for more than 130 years (and the client review rating being the one that they added in 2007 due to Avvo's newer ratings system): http://www.lawyers.com/Estate-Planning/Florida/Destin/law-firms.html. It's important to note that a lawyer is not necessarily rated in the area of law that they list as a practice area, which you need to discern. Here is the same type of search via Avvo, which began rating lawyers in 2007: http://www.avvo.com/estate-planning-lawyer/fl/destin.html.

Other sites provide informational lawyer profiles as well. Justia is one of my favorites and is affiliated with Cornell's Legal Information Institute. JDSupra is another good profile site. I also like LinkedIn, which offers extensive profile information on individuals and companies who create profiles via their site. I wrote on ABA article published in our RPTE Law Section's eReport that discussed these profile sites from a lawyer's perspective: "Should Lawyers Be Anti-Social Networking? Suggestions on Sites to Use (or Perhaps Snub)."

Ratings and profile listings are useful, but board certification is arguably more important. Just like doctors, everyone should be keenly aware of board certification (if available in a given state), which is generally the highest level of professional certification for doctors, lawyers, and a few other professions. The Florida Bar's board certification examinations are rigorous based on the view of every lawyer whom I know (including my own view). Notably, it's illegal for Florida lawyers to say that they "specialize" or are "experts" in any area of law unless they're board-certified by The Florida Bar (see the following one-pager).

I hope that these general thoughts help. They should generally apply to selecting nearly any type of professional, although the ratings, profile sites, and certifications might differ a bit. Referrals from friends or family help, but it's still prudent to obtain sufficient information to make your own assessment based on all of the facts that you can gather.