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Court of Wills, Estates & Probate

The following articles were written by former Probate Judge Merri Rudd.

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Finding an Attorney

11:17 AM
Merri Rudd
Q: You have mentioned you will discuss how to find a good attorney. Well?

Many people ask how to find an honest, competent attorney. Some people want the least expensive attorney. Others want an attorney they get along with. Still others want one who will return phone calls and do work promptly. Finding an attorney who meets all of your criteria may be challenging.

Asking trusted and satisfied friends, colleagues, and financial planners for recommendations of attorneys is probably the best way to find a good attorney. But here are some additional suggestions.

To choose an attorney who suits your needs, interview several and pick one with whom you think you can work. Not all attorneys know all kinds of law, so state what type of legal matter you have. If the attorney practices that kind of law, you might ask some of the following questions:

  1. What are your hourly rates? (If the attorney or staff will not give this information, find another attorney.)
  2. For my particular need, do you charge by the hour or a flat fee?
  3. Is there a minimum or maximum amount I will be charged?
  4. Do you charge a retainer fee? (Most attorneys do.) If so, how much?
  5. Do you have a sliding-scale fee for lower income people? (Some attorneys do.)
  6. Do you offer an initial free consultation? In person or over the telephone? If so, for how many minutes?
  7. How long have you practiced in this area of the law?
  8. What is your policy for returning phone calls? Do you return them the same day, one day, one week?
  9. Will I be charged a minimum amount for each phone call, i.e., if we talk for five minutes, will I be charged for 15 minutes?
  10. How long will it take you to complete this legal work? A day? A week? A month?

You can ask these questions over the telephone or during the first meeting with the attorney. Do not feel pressured to hire an attorney with whom you do not feel comfortable. Once you choose an attorney, a written fee agreement will protect you and your attorney. The agreement should set out the scope of the work, the fees to be charged, other costs and expenses, provisions for terminating the contract, a time estimate, and the attorney's billing procedure.

If an attorney has been publicly disciplined, it will be a matter of public record. To check the disciplinary record of any New Mexico attorney, contact the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court, P.O. Box 1809, Albuquerque, NM 87103-1809, 505-842-5781. If you feel your attorney has done something wrong or unethical, you can file a complaint with the Disciplinary Board or with the Consumer/Attorney Assistance Program, 797-6068.

My next column will describe several lawyer consultation, referral, and assistance programs.

8 2002, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved



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