If you’ve recently suffered a setback on the job, you’re probably feeling stressed out. Maybe you’ve researched your legal problem well enough to realize that you need the guidance of an experienced attorney. But when you Google for lawyers, you might find the options overwhelming.
It can seem impossible to find the right lawyer to handle your case, so below, I’ve compiled some tips that can help you narrow the field to lawyers qualified to help with your specific problem.
1. Find someone who focuses on employment law.
Strangely, the professional rules of conduct prevent lawyers from claiming that they are specialized, unless the bar in that particular state offers a specialty (which is rare). This means that you cannot find a directory for employment lawyers offered by a professional licensing body, like you might be able to do if you were, say, to look for a medical specialist.
However, you can turn to private directories that list lawyers according to their specialty. Here is a short list of some popular directories:
- Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, mwela.org;
- National Employment Lawyers Association, nela.org;
- Avvo.com, an online legal services marketplace; and
- Nolo.com, a network of consumer-friendly legal information sites.
2. Find a lawyer barred in your state and in your geographic area.
Most referral sites like Avvo.com indicate the states where an attorney is barred. In addition, many lawyers list the states where they have passed the bar on their website.
Why do you want an attorney barred in your state? For convenience, mainly. It’s ideal to have an attorney barred in your state who has an office that you can easily get to. Depending on how long your representation lasts, there may many times that you have to stop by your attorney’s office.
However, proximity isn’t a must. Attorneys can often appear in states where they are not barred by filing a motion to appear before the court for a single case (called a pro hac vice motion). An out-of-state attorney can also enter into what is called a local counsel arrangement with an in-state attorney. The out-of-state attorney can take the lead, with the in-state attorney handling routine matters in court. So, if you find an attorney out of your area that you are interested in talking to, go ahead and pick up the phone. Just make sure to let the attorney know where you live and work(ed). He or she can tell you pretty quickly whether he or she is willing to appear in your state.
3. Avoid lawyers who do not have employment law as their primary area of practice.
Many lawyers have a practice that involves some employment law issue. For example, some lawyers who primarily handle business matters, intellectual property lawyers, and general litigators may dabble in employment law.
Sometimes, a lawyer who handles employment law among many others may be fields may do just fine. But, all things being equal, find someone who devotes more than half of his or her time to employment. This is a complicated field that is difficult to stay current on if you’re juggling multiple practice areas.
4. Find a lawyer who mostly represents employees.
If you type “employment lawyer” into a Google search, you are going to pull up lawyers who represent management and those who represent employees. In some cases, you might find a lawyer who does both, but often, employment lawyers pick one side or the other.
It can be confusing to figure out which camp lawyers are in. Though there are exceptions to the rule, lawyers who represent employees tend to be in smaller firms or solo practitioners.
5. Find someone experienced with your specific situation.
Although many employment lawyers handle a range of situations, some still have a specialty. For example, a lawyer may be primarily interested in representing whistleblowers who notify their employer of unfair or fraudulent practices or may prefer to represent victims of a particular form of discrimination (such as disability, race, or age). Some employment lawyers focus on wage and hour issues, such as equal pay or meal break violations.
Look for a lawyer with specific expertise in matters similar to your case. If you have a discrimination claim, ask lawyers about their experience handling cases with facts like yours.
6. Check out their marketing.
Even if the lawyers you’re researching sound good on their website, you need to probe further. Find out whether the lawyers you’re researching have put their money where their mouth is.
Lawyers who truly focus on a particular area will have invested some time in writing about it, whether through blog posts, books or e-books, articles, or pamphlets.
7. Really look under the hood.
First, ask about jury instructions. (Here is an example of what jury instructions look like for some federal employment law matters.) A lawyer who has handled your kind of case before will have a set of proposed jury instructions. You need not know what this is in detail; just ask about it. If the attorney stares blankly or can’t give you a solid answer, he or she doesn’t really focus on that area.
Next, ask about clerkships. A clerkship is a job that some lawyers take with a court after they graduate from law school. They get extensive experience working directly with a judge and learn a great deal about the courtroom. So, if your attorney clerked (say within the past decade) at the court where your case will appear, that’s a bonus. An attorney who has served as a clerk in the court where you will appear certainly won’t be able to guarantee a win, but she will know the procedural ins and outs of a court better than others
8. Examine their payment arrangements.
Do you want a lawyer with an hourly rate or contingency fee? If you know you need a contingency fee arrangement, where you will only need to pay for your attorneys’ fees if you recover, look for lawyers who will work on that basis—not all lawyers will.
If it isn’t clear from the attorney’s website or other informational material, just call the firm and ask.
9. Pick someone you like and trust.
If you take these steps, you may end up with two or more attorneys who would be a good fit for your case. If so, don’t be afraid to listen to your gut. Who do you like more? As you evaluate your candidates, think about their staff as well.
It’s possible that you will spend a significant amount of time with this firm—up to a year or more—so it’s important that you have a good feeling about your lawyer and his or her team.
Summing It Up
- Not all lawyers are created equal. You need to find a lawyer who has significant experience in employment law and preferably experience handling cases similar to yours.
- Make sure your lawyer represents employees, not employers.
- Review your lawyer’s marketing materials and experience to confirm he or she actually focuses on employment law.
- Make sure you can live with your lawyer’s payment arrangements.
- Most importantly, find a lawyer you’re comfortable confiding in and working with.