An attorney is an attorney, right? Wrong. Like many attorneys, since graduating from law school, I have been asked a number of legal questions spanning various areas of the law. These questions have come from a variety of sources: friends of friends, colleagues, family members, neighbors, etc. There are times when I am familiar with the area of law and know the answer to the obscure question I am being asked with little to no background information provided, but more often than not, I do not know the answer and have to respond accordingly.
My lack of knowledge in certain areas of the law surprises some people whose initial reaction is “Well, you’re an attorney aren’t you?” Correct, I am an attorney, but what does that actually mean?
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “attorney” as “a person who practices law.” The “practice of law” is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as:
“The professional work of a duly licensed lawyer, encompassing a broad range of services such as conducting cases in court, preparing papers necessary to bring about various transactions from conveying land to effecting corporate mergers, preparing legal opinions on various points of law, drafting wills and other estate-planning documents and advising clients on legal questions. The term also includes activities that comparatively few lawyers engage in but that require legal expertise, such as drafting legislation and court rules.”
Essentially, being an “attorney” and “practicing law” can mean many different things. For example, the American Bar Association has twenty-one “sections” or “specialty groups,” that focus on different areas of the law. These include groups on taxation, litigation, business law, and labor and employment law among other things. Why so many groups? The law can be complex and it is hard for any single attorney to be well-versed in every area of law. As a result, most attorneys limit their practice to focus on only a few specific areas of the law.
So how do you find the right attorney for your individual or business legal needs? Here are a few things to consider:
- What is the problem or question you need answered? It may not be immediately obvious which area of law your question or problem falls under, but narrowing it down is a great place to start. This will enable you to contact only firms or attorneys that practice in the areas of law you think may be appropriate to handle the issue.
- Do you have a friend, family member or acquaintance that practices law or could provide you with a recommendation for an attorney?
- Are there local legal referral services in your area? State and Local Bar Associations are great resources when searching for an attorney who focuses on certain areas of the law and/or one who is located in a specific area of a city or state.
- Research a few attorneys or firms that focus on the area of law you think is appropriate to handle your legal issue. Technology makes it very easy to research potential attorneys and firms who may be able to help. Many firm websites specifically list the areas of law in which they practice and provide information regarding representative clients and the courts in which the attorneys at the firm are admitted.
- Schedule meetings or consultations, whether in person or by phone, in order to assist you in finding the right attorney for the job. Remember, you will want to work with someone you feel comfortable with as they will need you to be open and honest in order to best serve you.
At the end of the day, there is a good chance not just any attorney is equipped to assist you with all of your legal needs. However, with a little research, potential recommendations, and knowledge of the problem or question you need answered, you are well on your way to finding the right attorney for the job.