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What can Beer teach us about Hiring a Lawyer?

Last Friday, May 31, 2013, I attended the American Craft Beer Festival at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.  It included more than 140 brewers providing samples of over 600 different beers.  I would not call myself a connoisseur of beer and went primarily because of the interest of a friend.  However, when I considered how I would rate the various beers that I sampled, I discovered that some clearly stood well above the others.

Before I attended ACBF, I knew that all beers were not created equal, but I would not have gone out of my way to find a particular beer.  What I learned at the ACBF, though, is that some beers are truly worth going out of your way to find.  Specifically my favorites were Lunch from the Maine Beer Company and Koko Brown from the Kona Brewing Company.

So now that I've whet your appetite for a good beer, let me explain why I think there is actually a lesson in my experience that can help you hire a lawyer.

By now most people know that there are a lot of lawyers out there, and that they are not all equal in service, price, or knowledge.  Despite their awareness of this disparity many people still hire the first lawyer they interview.  Usually when going to a lawyer's office it is for some event that makes people feel vulnerable.  This is especially true in a divorce case, and just the act of meeting with a lawyer and explaining the circumstances surrounding the breakup of a marriage can be stressful and scary.  Most clients don't want do have that meeting more than once, and as long as the first lawyer they meet with is even remotely competent, they're hired.

But did you hear all your options?  Did you choose the best option for you?  And did you find a lawyer that fits your personality and values?  If you didn't, you'll probably be unhappy with the result in your case or end up hiring another lawyer.  Either way you won't feel like the money you spent was worth it.

So what should you look for when hiring an attorney?

1. TRY A SAMPLE:  Don't be afraid to interview multiple lawyers.  Many will offer free or reduced fee initial consultations or even low-cost meetings compared to their regular rates.  Just like my experience sampling beer, you might be surprised by how different your experience with different lawyers might be.

2. COMPARE SAMPLES:  If you interview multiple lawyers then you have the opportunity to compare how they addressed your concerns.  Did the lawyer give you a one-size-fits all speech or did they address the specific issues in your case.  If you only tried light beer, would you even know that there were better options out there?  Many people probably end up hating lawyers because they never took the time to find a good one.  Now is your best chance to see what else is out there.

3. KNOW YOUR OPTIONS:  Different lawyers practice differently. This is especially true in the area of family law and divorce.  Some lawyers prefer to litigate issues and let the Judge decide, and others work hard to settle outside of court.  Rule 5 of the Supreme Judicial Court Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution (SJC Rule 1:18) requires lawyers to explain that there are other options besides going to court to resolve disputes.  Did you hear about all of these options?  If a lawyer doesn't practice Collaborative Divorce or Mediation, they may not give you much information on these options, but you aren't making an informed decision about your case without knowing the truth about these options.

4. DO YOUR HOMEWORK:  I don't make any hiring decisions without looking at someone's website.  What image do they project to the world?  Is it professional?  Is it consistent with your values and how you want your case handled?

5. CHOOSE SOMEONE YOU TRUST: Did you feel heard?  If you didn't communicate well with the lawyer in the interview, don't expect that to change when your case starts.  You need to find a lawyer that listens to and understands your goals, and can explain effectively to you how they intend to achieve those goals.  Cost should be a factor, but it is only one factor, because if you choose someone you can't work well with you will end up paying for a second lawyer too.

Sometimes you have to pay a little extra when you find that good beer, but if you really compare it to what else is out there, you will realize it's worth it.


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