Knowing you need a family lawyer is the easy part. Knowing how and where to find the right lawyer can be a bit more overwhelming. Luckily, there are several trustworthy sources for beginning your search.
In existence for more than 40 years, Martindale Hubbell is the oldest and most respected lawyer rating service. But I am often surprised by how many clients are unaware of its existence. The ratings, available online and in print, come from lawyers and judges – the toughest scrutiny an attorney can endure.
How many other professions get actual grades? Just lawyers. And these grades will give you a reliable idea of the attorney’s knowledge, success, experience and professionalism.
An attorney with an A Rating is, as you might expect, among the best of the best. If you find an A-rated lawyer with 15 years of experience or more, you’re likely in good hands (A-rated attorneys with 20 to 40 years of experience make up approximately four percent of the entire Bar).
But very few lawyers – even the really good ones – achieve an A Rating. So, B Ratings, and even C Ratings, often signify a pool of hard-working attorneys who will represent you well.
It takes about five years to even warrant a rating, so if you find a lawyer in Martindale Hubbell who has been practicing less than 10 years but has earned a C rating, you can count on the fact that this lawyer is on his or her way up. If you want to save some money and have a young dynamic lawyer by your side, the C Rating may be the place to start. But if the lawyer has been practicing for more than 20 years and still has a C, you should be skeptical.
‘Best Lawyers in America’
Consider this a step beyond Martindale Hubbell. Attorneys who are included in this U.S. News and World Report’s publication are the cream of the crop.
Terrible name, good service. This is a reliable and credible database for an attorney search.
Word of mouth
A friend once jokingly asked me how it feels to have half a town hate me. I responded that it was more like 70 percent, because half my clients probably hated me, too. You’re always going to get mixed reviews when you ask around about attorneys. So, don’t just ask one person; ask 10. If the same name comes up a few times, you may have found a match.
The personal visit
An initial interview is important, and presentation matters. You should be impressed with the office environment – it’s a good sign of whether the lawyer is successful. Look around the office. The desk should be a little messy – the hallmark of a busy lawyer. But the rest of the office should be presentable and decorative.
Be sure you two click in some way, since you need both a competent person and one who will help you through a situation often filled with stress, tears and heartbreak.
And it’s important that your family lawyer has experience in trying cases. I find that the best lawyers of our profession are often as good as any other lawyer practicing their respective field of law.
Jim Lea has been practicing law for 36 years. In 1996, after only 16 years of practicing law, he received an “A preeminent” rating from Martindale Hubbell, an honor earned by only 10 percent of the country’s lawyers. He has also been named a “Super Lawyer,” honored as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” and “preeminent lawyer,” all for over 10 years. He was recently inducted into “Lawyers of Distinction,” limited to the nation’s top 10 percent of lawyers. His firm has been named by US News and World Report as one of the nation’s top law firms for over five years.