How to find a good Lawyer

Ever since I closed my law firm to go on a long and ongoing sabbatical, people are asking me if I can recommend a lawyer to them. I usually can’t. But I will give you the 10 ultimate guidelines for finding a good lawyer.

He will take time and ask questions.

Lawyers are different from dentists. At the dentist, you want to leave as soon as possible. A good lawyer on the other hand can be recognized by taking time. If a lawyer sends you away after 10 minutes and tells you “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of that.”, something is fishy.

The best way to test the quality of a lawyer is to see how many questions he asks you instead of the other way round. If a lawyer doesn’t ask you any questions about your background, about the facts of the case, about your strategy, about your relationship to opposing or third parties, about your long-term business goals, about your financial limits in pursuing the case and so on, how can he possibly advise and help you? The less questions a lawyer asks, the more he will treat you like a run-of-the-mill standard case. But you aren’t. – Even worse, if he doesn’t ask any questions, he probably doesn’t know what to look for.

When I spoke with my clients, I was often the only one asking questions for the first hour of the appointment before they could voice their first question. But because I was explaining why I asked certain questions, many of the client’s questions were answered in the process.

Should I opt for a young or an old lawyer?

That’s a difficult one and very hard to generalize.

You would expect the older lawyer to have more experience which accounts for something. Speaking about experience, there is no reason why you shouldn’t expect your lawyer to post his CV and a list of his court cases that got published in law reviews.

On the other hand, I have seen it quite often that lawyers stop studying once they pass the bar exam. They don’t read law reviews, let alone legal books, any more and they may not even follow changes in legislation. When I was a young lawyer, it happened to me a few times that I was up against and old-timer who quoted laws that were no longer in effect.

To a point, this is even understandable. New laws get passed every day, new books and articles get published every day. Only a law student can keep up with that. Nobody who has to run a law firm can possibly find the time.

Because of this, I’d take up the cudgels for younger lawyers. They are often at the peak of academic legal knowledge, they will be more dedicated and they will probably have more time to devote to your specific case. They may not know certain tricks, but if they are smart, they will learn them quickly. Law is a research-based profession and somebody who is fresh out of university is usually better at this than a 60-year old who last went to university when a typewriter was a modern invention.

specialist versus general practitioner

I love the idea of a general practitioner who will take the time to get to the depth of any legal problem that you may have. But I am afraid that’s no longer possible. Law is becoming ever more complex, especially in the EU member states where European law is often more relevant these days than domestic law. Add international conventions, jurisprudence, changes in legislation, pending challenges before the Supreme Court and so on, and a lawyer will sometimes struggle to keep abreast in one area of the law. Nowadays, you are probably better off with a specialist in most cases.

I do however think that it is possible to be a specialist in one, two or three areas of the law. It is actually vital that a lawyer understands more than one area of the law because cases often touch on two or more different fields. An example: I mainly dealt with international family law and I was constantly shocked to find out that other lawyers advised foreign clients about how to get a divorce in Germany without ever once mentioning what effects this divorce would have on their immigration status. These lawyers would profess to be family law specialists and guide the client through the divorce, only for the client to face deportation subsequently because he or she was no longer married to a German spouse. This goes back to the first point. If your lawyers asks about all of these aspects himself without being prompted, you are in good hands.

small firm versus large firm

That’s easy: go for the small firm.

Large firms are like bureaucracies with frequent turnover of attorneys and other staff. You’ll just be a number, not a person. And you will pay for their office tower, their corporate jet, their PR brochures and their golf club membership. Waste of money.

personality

Legal cases possibly go on for years. I had a few cases that began when I opened my law firm and weren’t yet finished when I closed it 7 years later.

You’ll be stuck with your lawyer for a long time, so pick him carefully. If you don’t like his personality, if you think you couldn’t get along, choose somebody else. There are hundreds of thousands of lawyers, it won’t be hard to find another one.

Also, imagine your lawyer in court or in a negotiation. I was always amazed how many shy and rhetorically challenged people work as lawyers. They were all probably hoping for a government job, but didn’t get one. You want somebody who will stand up for you in court, who will speak clearly and convincingly and who has an appearance that will allow him to be taken seriously. (I’ll probably have to get rid of my beard when I return to practice law.)

free advice

If a lawyers posts FAQ on his website for free, you can already see if he is somehow competent and if what you read is in line with what you would expect. Also, this shows that this guy is more interested in helping you than in charging you for answering the most basic questions which he could answer if awoken at 4 a.m.

strategic (non-legal) advice

A lawyer is only good if he is willing to stop thinking as a lawyer from time to time.

If a lawyer tells you “This is illegal” without telling you a way around it, he is no good. If he tells you “You are obligated to turn over this piece of evidence to the other side” instead of  asking “Does anybody else know about this document?”, he is no good.

In my philosophy, I am on my client’s side, not on the side of some weird concept of objective justice.

The lawyer must have a broad education.

If a lawyer only ever read law books and nothing else, don’t even consider him. A good lawyer, like every professional, needs a broad education that includes current affairs, history, economics, philosophy, languages.

To me, this educational background was especially helpful in immigration and asylum cases. I had been to many of the Middle-Eastern countries where my clients came from. This helped me both to understand their stories and also to verify if they were telling the truth. I remember how I once had a Palestinian asylum seeker in my office who was telling the wildest stories about life in the West Bank. He was stunned when I could tell him that I had just been to the West Bank the month before and that it was nothing like he described it.

male or female lawyers?

“You always say ‘he’ when you speak about lawyers. What about female lawyers?” I hear some feminists ask.

Well, maybe there are some good female lawyers. But why risk it? If you insist on supporting female professionals, do it when you want to fight a parking ticket. But not with anything serious.

website

Finally, a lawyer’s website is a good indicator. If somebody has been awarded the domain

www.hot-shot-lawyer.com

for example, you can assume that he really is a hot shot.

Now good luck with your search!

Because I studied and practised in Germany (although mainly in international law), these tips may have less value in other jurisdictions. If you are a lawyer from anywhere around the world, let us know your advice!

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Law and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to How to find a good Lawyer

  1. Pingback: FAQ on working with me as your lawyer | The Happy Hermit

  2. There’s an easier way in the States. Walk into the lawyer’s office and drop a $100 bill. The lawyer who DOESN’T dive over the desk to grab it is the one you want! :D
    Actually, I would add one more key, ESPECIALLY here in the States. If your lawyer comes from a late-night commercial, or you reach him via a toll-free phone number like 1-800-BAD-DRUG, you might want to look elsewhere. (That number is real – they will sue ANYBODY in relation to any medicine, medical practice, or even lifestyle like working with asbestos. They give “ambulance chasers” a bad name!)

  3. Dante says:

    If you insist on supporting female professionals, do it when you want to fight a parking ticket. But not with anything serious.

    Isn’t this an a little bit sexist attitude?

  4. Ronald Brak says:

    Well, maybe there are some good female lawyers. But why risk it?
    And maybe there are some good black lawyers. But why risk it?
    And I’ve heard that some Irish lawyers are good. But really, why risk that?
    And brown skinned lawyers, well some of them are good. But really, do you want to risk it?
    And clients with a lisp, sure some of them are good, but do you really want to risk wasting your best effort on them?
    And female clients, some of them might be good, but is it really worth taking risks for them?
    And then there’s the Dutch. Sure what they say sounds like English, but who knows what they’re really saying? So why risk it?

  5. le D says:

    The best advice is missing IMHO: ask another lawyer. :)

    Let’s explain (especially in view of specialist ./. general practitioner): ask a lawyer for a recommendation who is specialized in a field that has absolutely nothing to do with your actual problem. eG: if you need a lawyer for IP/IT ask a tax-specialist (or a lawyer practitioning in family law and vice versa [or just ask me @IP/IT ;-)]). If he’s really specialised he’ll tell you: that’s none of my business, but i know somebody hat i deeply trust and recommend.

    • That is also very good advice indeed! Only people who have nothing to do with a certain area of the law will be impartial enough, everybody else will be reluctant to recommend a competitor.

  6. Peter says:

    Well, there would be many ways of insulting this blogger, but why risk it?

  7. Kavita Joshi says:

    is that u in the pic…looking good :)

  8. Ormiston says:

    Hi there Andreas,

    Stumbled across your blog, and found that you have a number of interesting topics. Until I reached your ‘male or female lawyer’ section. About me: I too am a lawyer, of the female (and Australian) variety. I too have worked in immigration, refugee law and international law amongst other areas and have chalked up many happy clients.
    I would rethink publicising such overt sexism. The internet is a big place, and one never knows whether the person that has stumbled across your blog is a mere potential blog reader, a future client or perhaps a future employer.

    Cheers.

    • I can hopefully rule out future employers because I am not planning on applying for any job, but I agree that it was a very silly attempt at humour.

      • Anne says:

        Idk Andreas. I have a female German lawyer and she hasn’t been interested in appealing any decisions the judge makes. She is good at theatrical display in court but doesn’t persuade male or female judges and never appeals anything; just always tries to get me to agree with what the judge wants than opposing or appealing to a higher their ruling. When I tell her I want to fight, she goes off-grid for a few weeks or months until I grow tired of asking. I don’t know if it has to do with her gender or the fact the court pays her legal fees. Feedback welcomed and appreciated

      • It’s hard to comment on a case that I know nothing about, but on legal aid, lawyers receive less than they otherwise would, so their motivation might well be diminished.

    • Mattej says:

      I have used both civil and criminal lawyers and I will tell you that 10/10 times the woman lawyer was more detailed, honest with me, took time to learn the facts and ask me a lot of questions etc. The men lied, were lazy, over-charged and basically did nada to help me out. I ALWAYS ask for a woman lawyer. Never a man again. Andreas, I am surprised with you. You are educated and a fascinating nomad that always respected people. I have followed you for years but when it come to lawyers, women step forward!

      • Of course there are female hot-shot lawyers, I even know some of them.

        My original lazy attempt at a joke was based on the cross-section of my law school class. There, a large section of women only studied law to find a lawyer husband or to become a judge or get another cozy government job. But when there are not enough husbands and not enough government jobs, many of them had to become lawyers. (Of course, there are many exceptions, and I also hope that this has changed since I studied 20 years ago.) It seemed to me that among men, lawyer was more often the real dream job (although probably not for the majority either).

      • Thanks for calling out my misogyny! Indeed, this should not be tolerated.

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  13. Silke says:

    Andreas, your opinion on female lawyers is outdated and misogynic. This view on women is not politically liberal but conservative and politically rightwing populist. As a liberal politically interested human being, you should always try to be different from conservatives or rightwing populist parties like the AfD.

    • Absolutely true.
      I have changed in the meantime after meeting some cute female lawyers.

      • Silke says:

        You have met cute female lawyers? Do you think, cute is the right description if you talk about a female lawyer? I always thought, you don’t want to meet people and female lawyers. (You don’t even want to be liked by them.)

      • Whenever people think they know what I think, they get it wrong. Very sad.

  14. Silke says:

    You are right. It is just wrong and arrogant to assume, one knows someone entirely better than the person knows his- or herself, by having briefly been getting to know the person. There are already too many selfrighteous and selfabsorbed people considering themselves being the psychological overlords and know-it-
    alls. People with this attitude don’t turn the world into a better place.

  15. Jane Ambrose says:

    In my lifetime I’ve never needed to hire an attorney for anything, but I’ve been thinking lately that it would be a good idea to know the basics of how to hire one in case that time ever comes. Before reading this, I hadn’t thought about hiring a specialist over a general practitioner, but I can definitely see how this could be beneficial to a complicated case. Learning about the law is difficult but a great thing to have experience in. This will be great information to know! Thanks.

  16. Derek Dewitt says:

    My brother is looking for a lawyer to help him with private situation but isn’t sure where to start. I like that you recommend checking if the lawyer has an FAQ on their website to see if they are competent. I agree with you that this also shows that they care about their work and clients. Thanks for the helpful tip!

  17. Scott Adams says:

    It’s interesting that you suggested considering a young lawyer because they’ll be more dedicated to your case. I have been looking for someone to help me in an upcoming court case. I can see how it would be smart to choose a young lawyer because they will be eager to show what they are capable of.

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