Finding the right lawyer in Santa Maria (or anywhere) can be scary at first. Usually, people begin to search for an attorney AFTER they need one. They start after they have been sued, or after they are in some kind of contract dispute, or after they have been injured. Thankfully, it has gotten a lot easier to seek out and evaluate attorneys using the internet.
Take a moment and remember the top three things to do when considering any lawyer:
Research is the most important thing to do when choosing a lawyer.
Lawyers offer a service. Use the same steps that you fuse when making any big purchase or business decision.
The first step in finding the right lawyer in Santa Maria is to understand the type of lawyer you need. There are several types of legal practice areas, including lawyers that specialize in car accidents, contract law, or immigration law. Check out our article HERE that has more information on the different types of lawyers and areas of practice.
When you understand what type of lawyer fits your issue, try to find the best specialist you can for your case. Car accident attorneys will not have the technical expertise required for a medical malpractice case. Seek out the legal specialist that understands your case, and can act on the nuances of your claim.
A great way to start your search for a lawyer is by asking your friends and relatives for a referral to a lawyer they have used in the past.
Another source for referrals is from your business contacts in Santa Maria and professionals in your business network.
It is also important to broaden your search to find lawyers in Santa Maria, California by using professional directories (like this one) to find lawyers that are near you and specialize in the practice area needed for your case. There are quite a few different legal directories out there as well as the California State Bar Association with searchable databases of lawyers.
Picture a funnel. The wide end of the funnel catches the most water and "funnels" the water down into a drip (if the funnel is small enough). Cast a wide net in your initial search and then make the most educated choice you can make after "weeding out" lawyers that don't fit.
How long has your lawyer been practicing law in Santa Maria? How long in California? How long have they been a lawyer? Do they have a track record for success in Santa Maria? Have they had a lot of cases in the practice area that applies to your case?
Use search engines (like Google or Bing) to research the Santa Maria law firm and its lawyers. Do they have good reviews? Do they have positive local news coverage?
In addition to general searches, use the California State Bar Association website to research potential lawyers. The California State bar website lets you search by name or bar number and has other services, including:
When you look up a lawyer in detail, you can see their bar number, status, contact information, law school, and license status (including any discipline history).
Matching Area of Legal Expertise. If you have a patent claim, don't hire an attorney that specializes in medical malpractice. Focus your search on the specialization you need and find the best lawyer in Santa Maria in that legal practice area.
The Legal Team. Lawyers in smaller firms in Santa Maria might work by themselves and outsource some of the caseloads to partner firms. Lawyers in bigger national firms that have an office in Santa Maria may have an entire team of associate lawyers, paralegals, and support staff working on the same case. It is important to find out who is working on your case and who specifically is responsible for the results.
Remember, if you spend a lot of time researching a specific lawyer because of their expertise, that work is wasted if they don't actually work on your case.
Communication. An attorney's job is to communicate. They present your claim to judges and juries. They explain the case and what the outcome should be for you.
Additionally, legal terminology is complex. Your lawyer needs to be able to communicate complex concepts to you. They need to explain their legal options and be open to questions. Most importantly, YOU need to feel comfortable speaking with your lawyer.
Costs. Lawyers are expensive. In your initial consultation, the lawyer should be able to explain the legal fees and expenses for your case. In cases with contingency fees (where the lawyer takes a percentage), the percentage amount can vary depending on the case.
Professionalism. Is your lawyer professional? Are they professional in their communications with you? Look around their office during your initial consultation. It is clean and well kept? Does it look like it is run like a professional operation? If they don't look professional, odds are they are not professional. Would you expect your food to be clean in a restaurant with a dirty kitchen?
Local Experience in Santa Maria. Local experience is critical. The importance of local experience is the reason why most legal directories (or any online directory) have some sort of geo-location search function (ie giving results near your) built-in to the website. Your lawyer needs to be familiar with Santa Maria and the laws of California AND Santa Maria. If they work in Santa Maria frequently, they have developed relationships at the Santa Maria courthouse, with local expert witnesses, and even lawyers on the other side. Lawyers with experience in Santa Maria are up-to-date on local laws and the nuances of the legal systems.
If you live in Santa Maria, choosing a local Santa Maria lawyer makes face-to-face meetings much easier.
Most lawyers offer a free initial consultation. Take advantage of it.
An in-person meeting with a potential lawyer helps you evaluate the "fit" of expertise, personality, legal team, and professionalism.
During the meeting, the lawyer will typically give you their initial "take" on your case and their general approach. Taking the time to have multiple interviews with several different attorneys will give you an outline of the different strategies. This helps you make the choice that makes the most sense to you.
Ask for client references (and take them with a grain of salt).
References are like resumes. A job-seeker will avoid putting negative things on their resumes. Similarly, when people provide references, it is unlikely that they will give you contact information for unhappy clients.
Call all client references and ask them questions about the case process, their experience, and their satisfaction with the overall level of service.
As you narrow the list of Santa Maria lawyers as it goes down your "funnel," dig deeper into the lawyer's background. There are online sources where lawyers rank other lawyers (Martindale Hubbell is an example). Also, use the California Bar Association website to see if the attorney you are considering has any complaints or sanctions from past behavior.
After all of the research, interviews, and background checks, you should now have an idea of which lawyer is the best "fit" for your personality and your case.
If you get to the end of the process and still haven't found the right lawyer in Santa Maria, expand your "net" and start the process over again. Choosing the right lawyer can be the difference between winning and losing. Take your time and choose wisely.