How can I find good a lawyer if I've never used one before?
August 12, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I find a good lawyer if I've never used one before?

I need to find a lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area who deals with criminal law. In all likelihood this would be for some consultation and possible wrangling with a government agency and paper-filing. Not a court case (I hope).

I've never hired a lawyer before and have no idea how to go about it.

Does there exist some kind of service, referral network, or clearing house for finding a lawyer?

Although I'm not broke, five or ten thousand dollars is a lot of money to me, so I kind of have to get it right the first or second time. I can't afford to peruse a series of lawyers until I find a good one.

This is totally uncharted and somewhat scary territory for me. Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated.
posted by trevor_case to Law & Government (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ask friends and family first for recommendations. The next step, if that doesn't pan out, would be to call the local bar association (given the size of California, SF city-level or East Bay organizations might be the logical starting point) an ask what referral resources are available to you.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:00 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you know any lawyers? I'd start there. They will often have very good ideas of who to refer, and if they don't know, a trusted colleague might know. Most lawyers get most of their business this way, from referrals from other lawyers.

So, start with a lawyer friend or two. Ask them who they know.

If you have no lawyer friends, ask other professional friends you have who you know have used lawyers what lawyers they recommend. It doesn't matter whether they've used this lawyer for the same thing you want. The point is, you want to be able to call that lawyer and say, "Hi, ______ recommended I call you. I'm hoping you will be able to handle this or recommend someone excellent who will."

This is a vastly superior way of finding a good lawyer to going to, say, a local bar association website and seeing if there is a referral list.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:02 PM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's a comment for that!
posted by heyho at 2:03 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are plenty of websites that will refer you to a criminal lawyer, as will the State bar. The thing is that everyone needs something different from their lawyer. Identify what you need (someone scary/powerful? communicative and understanding? creative and visionary?) and start from there. Far too often do people sign the agreement expecting that their problems will be handled for them and they are simply... not. Lawyers are just people, some smart and motivated, others incompetent and disorganized. Just be careful because once you've hired someone it's a pain to change. Don't nickle and dime the difference between $175 and $300 -- in one matter I had a $250/hr lawyer who was far cheaper than the later $200/hr lawyer I hired because the latter was just so darn slow at his work. Check Avvo and Yelp reviews as well. Look to verify the qualities that are most important to you.
posted by letahl at 2:04 PM on August 12, 2012

There's also a MeFi wiki page about finding a lawyer.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you or a friend have a local college alumni network/mailing list, this can be a good resource for finding a lawyer as well - it gets you slightly beyond your friend network but still within a realm of "trusted" individuals, more or less.
posted by judith at 2:10 PM on August 12, 2012

Without intending any disrespect to "Lawyer Referral Services" of the various Bar associations, these are really just lists of attorneys who are interested in getting clients referred to them. It may narrow down those attorneys who don't want to practice in specified areas, since they can designate the general types of cases they would like to handle. Inclusion on the list does not indicate any type of endorsement or recommendation other than that the attorney is usually a member of the referring organization.

As said above and often in just about any area where you are looking for expertise and/or a personal connection a recommendation from a trusted source is by far the best way to choose.
posted by uncaken at 2:33 PM on August 12, 2012

I favorited the first comment above, but I should add the caveat that when you ask for recs from family/friends, limit it to people they have USED for excellent results. Don't ever take referrals to someone's cousin; ESPECIALLY if the referrer is someone you care about. This is a terrific way to get absolutely screwed.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:19 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask experts ( = expert witnesses). Say you need someone for criminal tax law. Look up "accounting expert witness [your city]" in google. They will likely have worked with a few lawyers who do criminal tax law.
posted by slidell at 5:06 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

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