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How to Find a Lawyer in New York City

Date Added: May 14, 2008 12:49:53 PM
Author: Jack Oceano
Category: New York: General Practice
New York City is full of attorneys. So how do you find the right attorney to guide you through the New York State legal system?  Knowing how to spot a bad lawyer is your first defense to being taken in by a shyster. As a former New York City attorney, I can tell you that Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs are lousy with bad lawyers. But with a little help, you'll be able to find an experienced, trustworthy New York City attorney who'll lead you through your legal crisis.

1. My first piece of advice is to beware the "Jack of All Trades" attorney. He's the sole practitioner who will take every case that comes his way - Immigration, Bankruptcy, Criminal Defense, Personal Injury - you name it, he'll take it on. This lawyer hasn't yet found his niche, meaning he doesn't make enough money in any single area of the law to call it his "concentration." He'll learn on the fly and may be running from Family Court to Criminal Court to Federal Court all before heading off to Civil Court to try your case.  If you have a serious legal matter, he's not for you. Find an attorney or law firm that primarily handles the type of law your matter relates to. If you were injured in a car accident, select a Personal Injury Attorney. If you were arrested, find yourself a Criminal Defense Attorney. If you're about to be deported - well, you get the gist.

2. Size doesn't matter. What I mean is the attorney with the biggest Yellow Pages ad isn't necessarily the best. While advertising in the Yellow Pages may be an effective business practice, it doesn't mean that the attorney who placed it is any good at practicing law. In fact, most successful attorneys don't get their clients by advertising, but rather through referrals. So, ask around first. Most likely, a relative or colleague has used an attorney in the past and will recommend his or her services if that attorney was effective.

3. Beware the bait and switch. You may speak to a New York City attorney at a law firm over the telephone, even meet with him or her in person and fall in love with that attorney's silver tongue and swagger. Then, boom, next thing you know you're dealing with a first year associate who couldn't argue his way out of a paper bag. Before you sign that retainer agreement, make sure you know just which attorney(s) are going to be assigned to handle your case.

4. Make sure that your attorney's legal strategies won't change after your check clears. This is what happens: You go to a New York City attorney, and that attorney tells you everything you want to hear. "No plea bargain! I'll fight like hell until you're acquitted!" Or, "No settling this case for peanuts! We're going to trial!" Of course, there are many times when it's in the client's best interest to plea bargain or settle their case, but all too often attorneys rant and rave about injustice only until the retainer agreement is signed, and then they fold like a cheap suit. Discuss all possible outcomes with your attorney before you hire them, so you know what to expect.

5. Discuss all possible expenses with your attorney beforehand. Read the fine print on the retainer agreement. Know all expenses you'll be charged for prior to hiring any New York City attorney. Discuss how much you're likely to pay out in legal expenses. Of course, situations may arise that are unforseen to even the most experienced attorney, but a good attorney should be able to tell you approximately how much you'll end up putting out to resolve your legal matter. Beware any attorney that double-talks every time money is involved in the conversation.

In addition to being aware of the above warning signs, you'll want to ask your prospective New York City attorney relevant questions. Listen carefully to his or her answers, and watch closely while he or she speaks. Body language says a lot. Here are some questions you should ask: How long have been practicing law? Have you handled cases like mine before? Who will be the attorney(s) assigned to my case? What expenses am I responsible for? Approximately how much will my attorneys fees ultimately be?

If you are paying a retainer fee up front, ask about the firm's accounting methods. How often will you receive statements on your account? If an attorney tells you it is likely you'll get some or most of your initial retainer back, you should beware. It is rare for attorneys to return retainer fees. They'll find some way to bill you for the remainder.

Remember, there are good and honest attorneys in New York City. I even met a few of them during the years I practiced law in downtown Manhattan. But for every good attorney in New York City, there's a dozen or so sharks lurking around, smelling blood every time someone opens a checkbook somewhere in the great Metropolis. Heed my advice, and you'll avoid the worst of them.
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