Lawyers, Litigation/Trial Law

2. Lawyers: Locating a Lawyer

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

—Abraham Lincoln

There is a very important rule concerning hiring a lawyer. Don’t equate locating a lawyer with choosing a lawyer! Obviously, if you don’t know any lawyers, you must go through a process of learning some lawyer’s name, street address, approximate age, national origin, whether he or she appears smart or dumb, whether she smiles all the time or looks like she has just lost her mother. By just meeting the lawyer, you are going to learn additional items such as whether he is cross-eyed or her nose runs all the time. But, just because you met the lawyer and learned all of these things does not mean that you have to marry the poor devil. You are a client, not a social worker. You are trying to find someone to help you! You can get up and walk out. You can shop around. You can say, “I’m not ready to hire a lawyer yet, I just want to hire a few minutes of your time.”

(. . . )

How do you locate a lawyer?

There are five ways that I know:

1. You know or meet a lawyer

2. Reputation or asking someone

3. Advertising

4. Russian roulette with the phone book

5. Calling a lawyer referral service

These are methods of locating a lawyer. I am not implying that you must meet “x” number of lawyers before you make a choice. If you are absolutely satisfied with the first lawyer you locate (as you very well may be), then you may want to choose that lawyer to represent you. If, however, you have the slightest doubt, why not look further before you make a choice?

If you already know a lawyer in whom you have confidence to either represent you, or refer you to another lawyer, you really have already made a choice. This is fine, as you will see when we get down to the discussion of making choices.


Bar associations are fond of saying lawyers don’t need to advertise because lawyers get their business by reputation. Reputation is a word that has a nice solid sound—like “you can rely on it.” The implication is that people will hear about and recognize good products. It’s a great theory, especially when spoken with some authority by a distinguished gentleman in a $900 suit behind a walnut desk. But I fear that reputation is often as susceptible to manipulation by packaging and marketing as it is by the quality of the product. Another word for reputation might be gossip. This is not to say that all reputations are inaccurate or should not be relied upon. To the contrary, we rightly make many of our day-to-day decisions based on hearsay, gossip, and opinion. All of this is just to say that reputation has limited use in choosing a lawyer. A lawyer who wears a pinstripe suit, appears at the right cocktail parties, and has a pleasant personality can have a fine reputation in circles, while a lawyer who spends all of his time in the library and wears white socks might be viewed as a nerd by the same group. Of course, some of the validity of reputation or gossip can be discerned by considering the source. For example, a lawyer is probably a better source of an opinion about another lawyer’s ability than your hairdresser.


Advertising is a good locator, but choice should be based wholly on other factors. Advertising has been hailed by its supporters as the answer to the lack of adequate legal representation available to the public at large. Although it probably is a step in the right direction, it certainly isn’t a cure-all in choosing a lawyer. It probably is less reliable than reputation.

Lawyers are now advertising free initial consultation. Take them up on it! Go in and see what he or she has to say for himself or herself. Then go away and consider if this is who you really want to represent you. Make them stick by the “free” part of the ad.

The Internet has been hailed as the answer to everything. Make no mistake, the Internet is advertising. The large media companies that have traditionally supplied lawyers with library and software are marketing Internet listings and websites to lawyers. Lawyers, along with everyone else in business, are spending heavily so that you can search them out on the Internet. That’s fine, but you must still see it for what it is: advertising.

Russian Roulette

Taking a chance by just picking a name out of the phone book or off of the Internet also gives you good odds of getting an adequate lawyer. But you should attempt to exercise choice and increase your odds and chances for success.

Lawyer Referral Services

This is just a narrower form of Russian roulette, since most referral services allow any lawyer who desires to have his or her name included on a list to do so. Of course, lawyers listed as specialists give you the assurance of getting someone who, at least, has had enough interest inthe subject to get additional training.


Robin M. Green, Divorce: When It’s the Only Answer (The Ordinary Mortals Guide, Inc., 2005), Chapter 12, pp. 97-100.