What Qualities Matter Most When You're Hiring a Lawyer?

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Few people enjoy hiring lawyers. That's just a fact.

If it takes a serious automobile accident, a divorce, or a death in the family to get you into a lawyer's office, then pretty much by definition, you're visiting under duress.

But when trouble strikes and you actually need a lawyer, how do you pick one?

According to Lawyers.com, the cost of legal services varies widely, from as little as $50 an hour to as much as $1,000 "or more." With such a wide range of prices to choose from, you'd think that the first factor people would look for in a lawyer is price -- specifically, a low price. Something closer to that $50 mark than to the $1,000, and as far away as possible from that ominous "or more."

That turns out to not be the case. Earlier this month, online "legal Q&A forum, directory and marketplace" Avvo.com asked its users what they look for in a lawyer. While cost certainly was a factor (65 percent of respondents called it "very important"), it wasn't as important as "respect in the legal community," which 67 percent of those surveyed think is more important, or "track record" (80 percent).

So it would appear that hiring a lawyer is actually a bit like buying a car. Price plays a role, of course, but more important is buying the right product, and getting good value for your money. Further bolstering the point, it appears that people who have more experience with lawyers are even more inclined to choose perceived quality over price. As Avvo's results reveal, the people most likely (72 percent) to pick a cheap lawyer over a good lawyer are those who've never used a lawyer before.

Let's Get Personal

All other things being equal, though, what specific qualities should you look for when choosing between two lawyers charging equivalent prices for their services?

According to consumers polled by Avvo, the top three personal qualities that most customers look for when choosing a lawyer are confidence, realism, and aggressiveness. These beat out qualities such as friendliness, ability to reassure a client, or compassion.

As Avvo explains, the feedback it got from its respondents is that when seeking a lawyer, they're looking for someone who's "a realistic go-getter" rather than "a hand-holder."

And again, this makes sense. After all, the law is a complex thing. Most of us would much rather leave it alone, and not have to deal with it if at all possible -- which is one reason we avoid lawyers in the first place.

It makes sense then that if you do run into some bad luck and find yourself with a legal dilemma that absolutely, positively, must be dealt with by a lawyer, you'd prefer to hand it over lock, stock, and barrel to a confident, realistic, and aggressive professional and let them deal with it. And really, for $1,000 an hour "or more," that's the least they could do.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith practiced law for 15 years (before coming to his senses). In all that time, though, he never chased an ambulance. Because that's what interns are for.

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I interviewed a lawyer one time and his motto was: Nice guys don't finish last, they finish dead last! I hired him.

January 02 2014 at 10:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You know the main criteria I've learned over the years that I use to hire a lawyer? Will they call me back in a timely fashion. Also, will they handle cases in which they might not make that much money. Find one that knows what he's doing in the field you need help in. If they'll call you back and are only willing to make a small amount of money, then you've found yourself a good lawyer. And good luck, cause it took me years to find one like that.

January 01 2014 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I worked for 2 and 3 lawyers at a time for 25 years (Portland, Maine) - they take $250/hr. and pay their assistants a mere $15-$20/hr. to take on their stress and manage their clients/schedules/files and then when decide they don\'t need you anymore they kick you to the curb .... been there 3x and never going back.

December 30 2013 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gary's comment

So sadly true!

December 31 2013 at 3:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply