Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

How to Find a Good Lawyer

After I received the following letter, I reached out again to prolific commenter, “Addie Pray,” our resident legal expert who has given some great law-related advice in the past. She was nice enough to extend some of her superstar legal expertise again to answer the following letter:

I’ve seen posted letters from time to time concerning legal difficulties and the usefulness of a good lawyer. My question centers on how to find a good lawyer. Currently, I have a male relative who needs a good divorce lawyer. He is also being abused. The only children involved are grown. I am a bit wary of lawyers advertising protection of men’s rights, but I feel that he needs some sort of special legal counsel. Can you or your readers help? — Need a Good Lawyer

Addie Pray writes:

The best way to find a good lawyer is through referrals. Sure, you can find them in the yellow pages, through a local bar association or better business bureau, or on websites like www.avvo.com and www.martindale.com, but I’d stick with referrals. It’s not an exact science, and it will require some work and patience on your end. Here are five tips to consider in your quest for a good attorney that is right for you:

1. Determine what kind of lawyer you need. There are a lot of lawyers out there, and knowing generally what kind of lawyer you need is a good place to start. (LW, your relative needs an attorney who practices family law. Where the divorce is contentious, the assets are complicated, and/or custody is an issue, I think it’s wise to hire a barracuda if you can afford one! Otherwise, a regular old family law attorney will do. As for the abuse, is your male relative being physically abused or threatened? If so, he should get a restraining order and/or consider pressing charges – to do either of these, he should contact the police.)

2. If you already know an attorney (any old attorney), ask if he or she can recommend a good [insert specialty] attorney in your area. Most lawyers know a lot of other lawyers and can recommend someone they personally know to be great, or they can ask other attorneys for referrals on your behalf. I receive firm-wide emails from colleagues on a daily basis asking for referrals for friends. I’ve been known to reach out to attorney friends on Facebook for referrals too, and it works! Be sure to identify who referred you when you place the call. For some reason, attorneys tend to take those calls more seriously, and you’ll get a quicker call back.

3. If you have family members, friends, or even mere acquaintances, who have been through what you’re going through, ask them for referrals too. People are usually more than happy to share their good (and bad) experiences with lawyers. You don’t need to pry about their legal issues or divulge your own. You don’t even need to admit it’s for you when you ask. For example, a simple “I’m looking for a good divorce attorney for a friend, could you recommend someone in town?” will do. You should also ask if the attorney was responsive and knowledgeable and kept them informed, and if they were happy with the results.

4. Gather your referrals and call all of them until you find a lawyer who will take your case and whom you like. Finding the right fit may take some time. Don’t be discouraged by the process, and don’t give up.

5. Consider organizations that offer free legal advice in your community. Are you elderly or disabled or earn low income (and live in Chicago)? You may qualify for assistance at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (www.lafchicago.org), for example. Are you an artist and/or do you work for an artsy non-profit? Check out Lawyers for the Creative Arts (www.law-arts.org). Do you know a big law firm lawyer with pro bono hours to spare? Most big law firms with soul-sucking annual billable hour requirements credit their attorneys 50, 100, or more billable hours each year for approved pro bono work. Many of these attorneys volunteer at organizations like Lawyers for the Creative Arts like I did. To find organizations in your area, Google is a good place to start. You can also get information about free services from your local state and federal courthouses. Hopefully, Dear Wendy’s community of lawyers can identify in the comment section even more ways to find free legal services for those in need.

I wish there were a quicker, more foolproof way to find a good attorney who will take your case, but these steps will help, I hope. I prefer referrals because knowing that an attorney comes highly recommended is often just what clients need to trust their attorneys and feel at ease in what is often a long and painful litigious process.

Best of luck to you!

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at [email protected] and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

15 comments… add one
  • PFG-SCR April 12, 2012, 1:12 pm


    How can I find the secret to unlimited financial wealth?

    – Need money

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    • Addie Pray April 12, 2012, 1:32 pm

      You could start by hiring a *really* good lawyer.

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      • pamplemousse April 12, 2012, 8:51 pm

        Or becoming one.

      • Dennis Hong April 13, 2012, 3:37 pm

        I think she means financial wealth for her, not the *really* good lawyer….

  • Guy Friday April 12, 2012, 1:23 pm

    I think Addie’s suggestions are great ones. One quibble (and I know this was more of an aside she made, but I’m concerned people won’t look at it) is to focus more on word-of-mouth referrals or contacting your local county bar association or State bar association than searching websites like Avvo. If you looked me up on Avvo, you would see that my rating is above-average, due to my stunningly positive professional conduct record, my moderate-to-high experience levels, and my industry recognition, whereas my former law school mentor is unrated due to “unconfirmed information,” despite being a nationally recognized trial lawyer who has literally written the book on evidence law in my state. Want to know why? Because I “claimed my profile”, whereas he could care less what Avvo says. But, honestly, you’d be an idiot to pick me over him.

    Seriously, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable your State’s bar association and word of mouth can be in helping you find a lawyer. In my state, we sign up to take referrals on specialized issues, and by signing up we commit to providing a free initial consultation, and — assuming we don’t take the case — a referral to a lawyer we know who would be qualified to take it. Ergo, if we choose badly in our referral, we don’t get referrals our way from the State. And even if we didn’t get that bonus, I still wouldn’t in a million years refer someone to an unqualified colleague, because that would mean that neither he nor I could be trusted further. In a field where reputation bears a direct correlation to cash flow, no one wants to be the guy you can’t rely on.

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    • Addie Pray April 12, 2012, 1:31 pm

      I just checked my avvo profile for the first time ever – and it says “no concern” and “no professional misconduct found.” Phew! Thanks, Avvo, for that thrilling endorsement!

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  • Buzzelbee April 12, 2012, 1:41 pm

    LW, I don’t know what area you are in but one thing I always suggest to people looking for free or low cost representation is looking into local law school clinics. Despite having students working directly on your issues there’s a law professor supervising them and working directly with them. This isn’t always great if you have a really time sensitive issue but it’s one more thing to look into. They also tend to be able to provide referrals to other local organizations that can possibly represent you and there can be a ton of local legal organizations that most people would never have heard of.

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    • niki April 12, 2012, 2:42 pm

      Yes! Yes! Yes! I recently graduated from law school and spent my last semester working as a certified legal intern in our school’s legal clinic. I was certified through the Supreme Court of Ohio to practice in front of the court under supervision of a licensed attorney. I worked on cases ranging from adoption to identity theft. It was an amazing experience and I loved being able to help people in my community.

      Also, our clinic represented people who were not “poor” enough to qualify for legal aid, but still couldn’t afford an attorney on their own. Law school legal clinics are a good option for people whose income falls in between.

      If you are going to utilize a legal clinic for something that isn’t of an emergent nature, make sure to contact them at the beginning of a school semester. August and January are the best times because there are a new crop of students looking for cases. Our clinic would stop taking cases about half way through the semester because we all had a full case-load.

      Reply Link
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    honeybeenicki April 12, 2012, 2:03 pm

    In addition to the advice above, you may consider checking your workplace or union (if you have one or either). Many have employee assistance programs and sometimes you can get lucky with referrals/discounted services. I used our EAP to find a lawyer for my husband and unfortunately none of the participating lawyers could help, but they were all happy to recommend other lawyers that could (2 of 4 even recommended the same lawyer and that is who we hired). And I know my union provides legal assistance as far as referrals, consults, and discounted services.

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    landygirl April 12, 2012, 3:21 pm

    I hear all the good lawyers hang out a Chik-fil-A.

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      JK April 12, 2012, 3:39 pm

      Or Bikram studios. 🙂

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    • Addie Pray April 12, 2012, 3:44 pm

      Isn’t it funny how well my fellow DW’ers know me?! But I will say, ever since all the good lawyers started Bikram at the beginning of the year, they’ve stopped frequenting Chik-fil-A. … And ever since all the good lawyers stopped working, you can find them at places like the public library and the grocery store, in the very middle of the day.

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    MaterialsGirl April 12, 2012, 4:48 pm

    Be honest, have you been to Bella Luna more than 5 times since leaving your firm?

    Reply Link
    • Addie Pray April 12, 2012, 4:54 pm

      Not quite. Tonight will be No. 5 though…

      Reply Link
  • Temperance April 13, 2012, 4:21 pm

    Another thing to add would be to find an attorney who specializes in divorce when there is domestic violence.

    An attorney who specializes in “men’s rights” is probably looking for a test case to set precedent. This is not always true, of course, but I would steer away from that and try and find someone with experience in domestic violence cases. You’ll get a much better attorney that way.

    Reply Link

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