You’ve probably heard horror stories from loved ones whose cases were derailed by incompetent lawyers. There are involved parents who lose custody of their children, spouses forced to pay generous alimony payments to unfaithful former partners, and innocent people jailed for the actions of others. Sometimes these stories make it seem like finding an ethical, dependable attorney in New Jersey is impossible.
While no legal representative can guarantee a specific outcome, it’s true that some lawyers perform — and behave — better than others. Scan the tips below for help choosing a trustworthy lawyer, whether you’re hiring a criminal defense attorney, a personal injury attorney, or a divorce attorney.
Determine Your Case Type
Some lawyers handle multiple areas of law, but many focus on a specific concentration such as bankruptcy or child custody. You may still be able to hire a bankruptcy attorney for your child custody case, but it’s generally not ideal. The legal system is complex, and lawyers need extensive knowledge of documented laws as well as unspoken expectations that could affect your case.
Lawyers develop business relationships with other attorneys in their area as well as local judges and prosecuting officers. They learn their litigation styles and gain insight into typical judgments and verdicts. This helps your attorney prepare for your case and effectively represent your best interests in the courtroom or with a mediator.
Villani & DeLuca, P.C., represent clients who need assistance with many common legal issues in New Jersey, including:
- Family Law — Divorce, separation, paternity, child support, alimony and child custody are some of the many issues family law experts handle.
- Personal Injury — Car accidents, dog bites, slips and falls, work-related injuries, swimming accidents and product liability issues are appropriate matters for personal injury lawyers.
- Criminal Law — Juvenile charges and adult criminal cases — whether the parties are guilty or innocent — are represented by criminal defense lawyers.
- DWI Defense — DWI attorneys handle charges associated with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs, recreational drugs and over-the-counter drugs.
- Bankruptcy — Individuals or businesses that are struggling financially can file Chapter 7, Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy plus explore other forms of debt management.
Don’t see your issue on the list? Ask us which type of lawyer can handle your case.
Ask for Recommendations
Many people use the same lawyers as their friends, family members, or colleagues. When you ask for recommendations, it’s also wise to ask for negative feedback about former attorneys. This helps you make an informed decision about who should handle your case.
Here are some questions you may want to ask your loved ones:
- Did the lawyer’s fees reflect the time spent on the case?
- What type of personality did the lawyer have?
- Did you feel valued as a client?
- Would you hire this lawyer again if needed?
- Do you think this lawyer would be good for my case?
Remember, lawyers cannot guarantee an outcome, so don’t immediately get discouraged by reports of lawyers who didn’t win the case. You can hire a good attorney and still not get as much visitation time with your kids or as big of a financial settlement as you want. However, a good attorney understands local laws and how they affect your case, so they fight to help you get the best outcome possible in court.
Read Online Reviews
After you learn how your family and friends feel about local attorneys, take some time to explore other opinions. Online lawyer reviews are available on numerous sites, including Google My Business, Lawyers.com, Avvo and LawTrades. You can also find online lawyer reviews on Facebook if your lawyer has a social media presence.
Read the reviews on local lawyers’ websites as well, but keep in mind many law firms only publish positive reviews. You can generally find a mix of positive and negative reviews on third party review sites.
When you read reviews, pay attention to the names of the reviewers. Some lawyers review themselves online or have their family members leave positive feedback. You may also notice office workers, such as paralegals and legal secretaries, post comments about their own law firm. It’s not necessarily a red flag if you see a handful of reviews from people affiliated with the firm, but it’s worrisome if you only see reviews from these people.
Lawyers’ claims don’t always match their credentials. Before you hire a lawyer, make sure they’re licensed in your state. You can check licensing for New Jersey lawyers through the NJ Judiciary website by entering their first and last names.
Some lawyers display seemingly impressive certifications that are easily obtainable by anyone, even nonlawyers. Do a quick online search for any degrees and certificates displayed in a lawyer’s office or on their website before you hire them for your case.
Search for Infractions
The American Bar Association creates and regulates numerous guidelines for professional conduct. When a lawyer violates these guidelines, they may receive a suspension or even become disbarred. When a lawyer gets disbarred, they can no longer practice law. That means they cannot legally work on your case, and you are not protected if something goes wrong.
Start by entering a lawyer’s name into the state bar association website and see what you find. State bar associations generally have up-to-date information about the status of local lawyers.
You can also check sites like Avvo for information about professional misconduct. Another option is to run a Google search for the lawyer you want to hire. You may find published notifications about misconduct or unethical behavior. Court records for your area may show an attorney has been sued for malpractice or made poor choices in their personal life.
Explore Your Options
Many attorneys offer free or low-cost consultations so you can decide if you work well together. Visit several attorneys, even if one seems like a perfect fit, so you can make sure you choose the best attorney for your needs.
During each consultation, ask questions and take notes. Here is some information you should gather during a consultation:
- Billing practices, including information about retainers, invoice frequency, payment plans and nonpayment.
- Experience with local courthouses; specifically, the courthouse where you expect your case to take place.
- Litigation style — Is the attorney aggressive? A peacemaker? Passive during negotiations but a bulldog in the courtroom?
- Expected outcome — An attorney can never guarantee an outcome, but an ethical attorney will let you know if you have any chance of getting your case heard or dismissed.
Find out exactly how much money your attorney requires before they formally enter in on your case. Some attorneys advertise low-cost down payments but do not officially enter in as your counsel until you’ve paid a larger sum.
Beware of False Promises
Many lawyers are blunt to the point where they seem pessimistic, but that’s because they’re trying to prepare you for the worst-case scenario with your case. For example, a divorce attorney may say, “I know you want sole custody, but your ex could get sole custody plus the house and cars.” That doesn’t mean you have no chance of scoring your desired outcome. It just means your lawyer wants you to have realistic expectations during your legal battle.
Watch out for overly confident lawyers who make claims like, “I’ve never lost a case” or “Your ex is awful, so you’ll get everything you want in court.” Lawyers are not supposed to promise a specific outcome, even if you’ve got stacks of evidence in your favor and the opposing party does not deny being negligent or abusive.
A trustworthy lawyer gives you hope during a stressful legal case, but they also let you know that judges are sometimes unpredictable. Look for a lawyer who is honest and realistic, not one who is pushy or simply says what you want to hear.
Every legal matter is different, and you need a lawyer who understands that. Avoid unrealistic guarantees, and review feedback from current and former clients before you select a law firm. If something seems off about an attorney, trust your instincts and continue searching for the right legal expert for your case.
Are you interested in discussing your case with the lawyers at Villani & DeLuca? Contact us today for a free consultation.