Sooner or later, you're going to need a lawyer. Whether you are buying a house, starting a business or dealing with an inheritance, legal assistance can be invaluable.
But finding a good attorney can be tough. Lawyers typically charge hundreds of dollars an hour and don't list their fees online, so you could waste time calling ones you can't afford. Plus, many online services that match clients with lawyers just link to attorneys who have paid for leads and may not be the most qualified.
Here's how to find a good lawyer even if you can't afford to spend a lot of money.
Figure out what kind of lawyer you need, then search legit listings
Don't know where to start? First figure out the broad area of law that you need an expert in. For example, if you are struggling with debt from unpaid taxes, you will need a tax lawyer. If you want to make a will, you'll want an estate planning attorney.
Don't just type "tax lawyer" in Google as that will lead to a rabbit's hole of shady websites. Instead, search your state bar association or search professional organizations based on the specialty you need. At the bare minimum you will get the contact information for legitimate, licensed attorneys.
You also need to consider a lawyer's experience. Look at the minimum requirements for inclusion into whichever professional organization they belong to and check to see if they are board certified in the specialty you need by visiting the State Bar Association website and searching for a lawyer based on board certification.
Lastly, you want to make sure your lawyer is squeaky clean. Check the Directory of Lawyer Disciplinary Agencies, which lists state agencies that discipline lawyers. If they have a discipline history, that means "the person has received a professional discipline for violating the rules," the Florida Bar notes.
Enlist a legal service to make a recommendation for you
If you aren't sure where to begin, a lawyer-matching service like Legal Services Link can help. "Fill out a short form describing your legal issue and our administrator properly tags the project and sends it out to our attorney network," the site's co-founder Matthew Horn told Mic. Qualified and often affordable lawyers will respond.
Another service called Avvo gives you three ways to connect with a qualified lawyer. Either pay $39 for a 15-minute phone consultation, search consumer-rated reviews of lawyers or post questions on its site for a lawyer to answer.
State and local county bar associations also have referral services, which schedule initial legal appointments for a nominal fee. "Local Bar-sponsored programs charge between $25 and $50," according to the Florida Bar. You can also search for attorneys through Martindale.com, AttorneyPages, Justia, Nolo and FindLaw.
Tips for finding 7 kinds of lawyers
Getting a prenup or a divorce: Look for an attorney who specializes in family or divorce law on the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers website. When it comes to prenups, remember that both parties should have their own lawyer, Family Lawyer magazine recommends. As for a divorce, the cost can go from a low of $1,500 for an uncontested one to more than $15,000 if it's contested, Woman's Divorce notes, so work out issues on your own and hire a flat-fee attorney to handle the paperwork.
Handling issues at work: If you are offered a contract for employment, believe you have been discriminated against or want to negotiate a severance offer, you may decide to seek out an employment lawyer. Start with the National Employment Lawyer's Association to find qualified lawyers.
Buying or selling real estate: In some states, you'll need a lawyer to close every real estate transaction. Title companies handle closings in other states, but you may still want help. If you're leasing office space or building a home, a lawyer is important for complicated transactions. You can find one through the American College of Real Estate Lawyers.
Dealing with tax problems: You need a tax lawyer if you're audited or owe back taxes, which could happen if you don't comply with tax rules as an independent contractor. A lawyer can help you negotiate a settlement with the IRS. "They can help you settle your debt for less," according to Money Crashers. Find one through the American College of Tax Counsel or the American Academy of Attorney CPAs.
Dealing with an inheritance: An estate planning attorney helps make a will and go through probate after the death of a parent. "Whether planning for yourself, or due to the passing of a loved one, it's important to seek out an attorney who focuses their practice on estate planning and probate," Steve Hartnett, director of education for the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys told Mic. Find an attorney through the AAEPA's Find an Attorney page. (Editor's Note: The author has a professional relationship with the AAEPA.)
Starting a business or dealing with other business issues: If you're doing something simple like incorporating, you may want to use a flat-fee service like BizFilings and LegalZoom. "LegalZoom can be good if you know exactly what you need, but it can't advise you on what is appropriate for your specific situation," advised The Muse. For more complicated issues, hire a business lawyer through the Alliance of Business Lawyers, American Academy of Attorney CPAs (look for those specializing in startups and business law), or the American Intellectual Property Law Association.
Settling your debts: If you're in financial trouble due to credit card or medical debt, get help from a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. If your problem is debt collector harassment, the National Association of Consumer Advocates can connect with a member attorney to file a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
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