Choosing the Best Lawyer in Charleston for You
Our economy has hit everyone hard, including lawyers in Charleston. The Charleston School of Law and the University of South Carolina continue to churn out several hundred lawyers a year, but these young lawyers find that there are few law firms hiring them after graduation. These graduates have to sink or swim by either working in a non-legal field or by “hanging their shingle.” Many graduates (along with other veteran Charleston attorneys) are hanging their shingle online. If you search Google for the best lawyers in Charleston, you quickly get a sense of how saturated the Lowcountry has become with so many new lawyers. With so many lawyers to choose from, how to you choose the best lawyers in Charleston for you? Carefully!
The following are some practical tips for choosing the best lawyers in Charleston for you:
Your Legal Budget vs. Your Legal Needs
As a general rule, well-seasoned attorneys charge higher fees, and newer lawyers are cheaper. You pay higher fees for experience. If you have a simple issue such as a speeding ticket and you are on a budget, then a recent law school graduate may fit the bill. However, if you are facing complex legal challenges, then your legal needs may justify the costs of a more knowledgeable attorney. Additionally, although younger lawyers may charge a lower hourly rate, it may actually take them longer to do the work (meaning more fees) than a veteran attorney who has been performing the same service for years.
Do Your Homework
When you are searching for lawyers in Charleston on the Internet, you should read beyond the marketing rhetoric if you really want to know who you are hiring. Here are some examples:
- If you visit a website that has plenty of descriptions of the lawyer’s services but little information about the lawyer, then you may be missing the most important part of the picture – the lawyer’s experience.
- If the lawyer’s biography does not include the year that the lawyer graduated from law school, then chances are likely that the lawyer has not been practicing for very long and he or she has left this information out of their website for “marketing” purposes. This does not necessarily mean that the lawyer is not able to handle your case, but it may mean that the lawyer is still learning the ropes.
Here are some resources to learn more about your lawyer’s background and experience:
- Look for the lawyer’s Martindale Hubbell Rating. The Martindale Hubbell® Directory has been rating lawyers for the past 140 years. According to Martindale, “Peer Review Ratings™ help buyers of legal services identify, evaluate and select the most appropriate lawyer for a specific task at hand.” Using information supplied by other lawyers and judges, Martindale rates lawyers based on performance in the areas of: (1) legal knowledge, (2) analytical capabilities, (3) judgment, (4) communication ability, and (5) legal experience. The highest rating a lawyer or law firm may have is AV Preeminent. For more information about how the rating system works and to search for a lawyer’s rating, visit www.martindale.com.
- A new-comer to the business of rating lawyers is AVVO. AVVO rates lawyers by “using a mathematical model that considers elements such as years of experience, board certification, education, disciplinary history, professional achievement, and industry recognition-all factors that are relevant to assessing a lawyer’s qualifications.” Their ratings rank from the highest of 9 – 10 (Superb) to the lowest of 1.0-1.9 (Extreme Caution). Also, AVVO posts reviews and comments by both other lawyers and by clients. AVVO’s website can be found at www.avvo.com.
Interview Your Lawyer
Oftentimes when people meet with a lawyer for the first time, they are under significant stress because of their legal problems, and the conversation tends to focus solely on those problems. While you are discussing your case and seeking answers to your questions, take the time to ask the lawyer about his or her background and experience such as:
- How long they have practiced;
- Whether the lawyer has handled any cases similar to yours;
- How many similar cases has the lawyer handled;
- Who will handle the case (sometimes other lawyers within a firm besides the one you meet with will handle some of your work, and you should know more about the legal team working on your case and who will be handling what on your case); and
- Whether the attorney has malpractice insurance (malpractice insurance is not required for many lawyers).
Here are two common questions that clients ask that will NOT help you to choose the right lawyer for you:
- “How many cases have you won?” – As any seasoned Charleston lawyer will tell you, “You can’t win them all.” Even if the lawyer has won every case up to that point, your case may be the first that they lose. So, if the lawyer boasts about their track record or gives you the impression that you cannot lose, then perhaps you are not dealing with the most straight-forward attorney.
- “What are the odds of winning my case?” – Although a lawyer may comfort you by telling you what you want to hear, you are better off getting a straight answer from the beginning. The honest answer is – “It depends.” Every case is unique, and your case’s outcome depends on many variables which, realistically, cannot be predicted from “day one.” These variables include which judge hears your case (trial judges make mistakes just like everyone else, which is why we have appellate courts); the jurors who show up for court that day (they all come with their own points of view); the laws applicable to your situation (which may be for or against your legal position); the proof in your case (such as whether you have good witnesses and plenty of evidence supporting your claim); and, importantly, whether you are an asset to your case (perhaps you may do a poor job of testifying).
How You Feel
The final, and perhaps the most important, thing you should consider when you hire your Charleston attorney is how you feel about your first meeting. The bottom line is that if, for any reason, you do not feel comfortable with the lawyer you met with, then go interview others (and there are many) until you are satisfied that you are choosing the best Charleston lawyer to represent you.