E. Elizabeth Sweetser

Choosing And Evaluating Your Attorney

When choosing an attorney, you want to make sure that he or she is suitable for the type of legal matter you have. Here are some tips to help you make your selection.


There are two types of “practice areas” with which you should be familiar – litigation and transactional, Litigation is a lawsuit to resolve a problem or disagreement. The parties to a lawsuit are the plaintiff and the defendant. If you are the victim of an accident or intentional injury, you are the plaintiff. If you are being accused of causing an accident or intentionally harming someone, you are the defendant. Litigation can be resolved by negotiating a settlement or going to court. There is  no plaintiff or defendant or lawsuit in transactional law. You hire a lawyer to represent you in connection with a legal transaction like a business deal, real estate closing or the drafting of a will.


The legal equivalent of your family doctor is the general practitioner. Just as your family doctor is sufficient for sore throats and the treatment of common viruses, a general practice lawyer is usually sufficient for your basic legal work-like traffic violations and simple wills. However, if you have a more substantial legal matter, you should see a lawyer who specializes in handling your particular legal problem.


Litigation is a specialty. Some of the most common types of litigation matters are automobile accidents, slip and falls, injuries from defective products, medical malpractice and workers’ compensation. Some litigation attorneys are experienced representing plaintiffs; others primarily represent defendants. If you are hurt in a car crash, hire a lawyer who is experienced representing plaintiffs in automobile accident cases, not a lawyer who works for insurance companies defending people accused of causing the accidents. If you are the victim of medical malpractice, find a lawyer who has experience suing negligent doctors. If you are injured on the job, you want to make sure to select an attorney who represents workers, not employers, in workers’ compensation cases.


Transactional lawyers have special skills too. They are the ones who have experience drafting and reviewing legal documents such as sales or real estate contracts, leases, wills, partnership or shareholders agreements, trusts and the like, and will be able to provide you with the best advice about how to protect your interests in a legal transaction.


You’ll also find that some law firms offer a combination of litigation and transactional law. Often these firms will have several lawyers and separate “practice areas” that concentrate in specific areas of the law. Those firms are usually referred to as “full service” law firms because they can handle most if not all of your legal needs.

Once you know the fundamentals, you’re ready to interview your attorney to find out if he or she is the right choice for your legal matter. Here are some additional suggestions:

Go to online to the Martindale Hubbell website,  which lists attorneys by location, tells you where they went to school, and rates them. Even if you get a personal referral, it’s a good idea to look up the attorneys or law firm in this directory to check qualifications.

Ask your friends or co-workers to refer a competent attorney. Call or video conference several briefly and ask for references.

Always remember that you’re the clients and you’re important! Be wary of an attorney who is stand-offish, disinterested, or tries to placate you with phrases like, “Don’t worry, I know what’s best,” before thoroughly understanding your needs or concerns. If you’re not satisfied with the service you’re getting, get another lawyer.

Don’t be intimidated or afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to talk about fees, and be clear on the scope of work you want.

Make sure you’re personally comfortable with your attorney. An attorney that’s right for a friend, may not be right for you.

Critically compare legal fees. Although one attorney may not be as costly as another, the lawyer who has more experience with your type of case may be able to get you a better result, faster, If you are interviewing an attorney who you trust but simply cannot afford, ask for his or her recommendation of an attorney more suitable to your price range. He or she may point you to one of his or her associates in-house, or to another firm entirely, depending on your budget.

E. Elizabeth (Betsy) Sweetser

Commercial Law & Litigation, Appeals, Estates & Trusts Litigation, Employment & Labor

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