Choosing an Attorney

Hiring an attorney is like choosing any other professional like a doctor, engineer, or contractor. Research, recommendations, and interviewing can help you to select an attorney who will best represent your interests.

The first step is to define the nature of your legal situation. Do you need a will drafted, financial problems resolved, representation in a civil suit, or help with a house closing? Lawyers usually specialize in certain areas of law, and you want to select an attorney whose area of practice addresses your situation.

Several sources exist for obtaining names of attorneys. Personal referrals are an excellent method of finding a lawyer to represent you. Talk with people you trust who have faced similar situations and ask their recommendations. Other professionals like your banker or accountant can also make suggestions.

The Martindale-Hubbell law directory contains background information on attorneys in Mississippi and other states and is another good reference. The directory is available at the Mississippi State Law Library in Jackson, the law schools at Mississippi College and the University of Mississippi, and some chancery clerk offices.

Some attorneys promote their services through advertising, and the Yellow Pages lists lawyers under the heading "Attorneys." For persons who cannot afford a lawyer, several state and federal agencies offer legal assistance. The Legal Services Corporation provides free legal advice and representation to indigent Mississippians in civil cases. To contact the Legal Services office in your area, check your local telephone directory.

When interviewing a lawyer about possibly representing you, discuss the fee arrangement. Common fee methods include a contingent fee, whereby the attorney receives a percentage of any monetary recovery awarded to you; an hourly rate, based on the actual time spent on the case; and a fixed fee set for a specific job, like drafting a will. The client is usually responsible for out-of-pocket expenses and court costs.

For a specific legal service, the attorney may request a retainer as a down payment on the agreed upon fee. It is also standard to sign a retainer agreement outlining the fee arrangement to avoid misunderstandings.