Q. We have retired after many years overseas. We would like to find a competent lawyer to advise on both legal and financial matters. Does the general practitioner in law exist as it does in the medical profession? Or, is the lawyer a very specialized professional? How do we choose and what should we expect to pay for legal services. Quite a lot of information is available on how to select a physician, but we have not come across anything on how to select a lawyer.
A. Choosing any professional, whether it be a lawyer, doctor or accountant, requires a little bit of time, a little bit of skill, and a lot of luck.
Most lawyers tend to develop a specialty or two, and if they are competent, word of mouth brings them additional business in that same specialized area. Although the areas of specialization often tend to overlap (such as real estate and estate planning), most lawyers in the Washington metropolitan area cannot really claim to be general practitioners. The laws are becoming more and more complex. Thus, a criminal lawyer for example, has his or her hands full just keeping up with the state of the changing art. It would be quite difficult for that criminal lawyer to develop the same level of comptency in too many other specialized areas of the law.
However, from the needs you have described, you apparently are looking for a specialized lawyer yourselves. You have indicated that you want advice on real estate, other types of investments, taxes, wills and other related legal and financial matters. You are not looking for a criminal lawyer, nor are looking for an expert in litigation, securities and exchange regulations, communications or aviation law.
How do you find the lawyer in your particular community?
The best method, in my opinion, is to discuss your needs with your friends and acquaintances. Word of mouth is still the best recommendation for any professional. After all, if someone is not satisfied with a lawyer, it is doubtful if that lawyer will be reommended to anyone else. w
Talk to your local banker; discuss this with a local real estate agent. You can also call the lawyer referral services of the local bar association in your area. For convenience purposes, the phone numbers for some of these services are listed below:
D.C. Bar Referral Service -- 638-1509
Montgomery County Bar Referral -- 762-4940
Prince Georges County Referral -- 277-1180
Alexandria Bar Referral -- 548-1105
Fairfax County Bar Referral -- 273-6860
Once you have obtained a name or two, contact that lawyer and discuss your needs openly and candidly. Find out whether the lawyer -- or law firm -- has time to devote and your needs, and whether there are other partners or associates connected with that lawyer so that you can obtain additional assistance, as and when needed.
There is nothing wrong with having an associate of the lawyer you hire to assist you, provided, of course that you are satisfied with the competence of -- and develop a good rapport with -- that lawyer.
The most important factor in developing a lawyer/client relationship is the rapport between the parties. If the lawyer is discourteous, rude, brusk or inattentive to your needs, you would be well advised to seek other professional counsel.
How much does the lawyer charge? It is essential that you find out the lawyer's charges before you enter into a business relationship. Many lawyers will have you sign a retainer agreement, spelling out the terms and conditions of the services rendered. If the lawyer is reluctant to discuss fees with you, you may be looking at trouble down the road.
Each of the bar associations listed above also have grievance committees in the event you are dissatisfied with your lawyer's services. However, before filing a complaint, discuss your concerns in writing with your lawyer. There may be a reasonable explaination, and it always is better to raise your concerns with the lawyer first.