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Advice, Books, Law

How to Hire a Lawyer

So I came across Every Woman Should Go to Law School or Read This Book, by Margaret Basch, J.D. and flipped to a pre-dog-eared page and the section was “How to Hire a Lawyer.”

The author says that (surprise, surprise) “yellow pages are not the best way to find a lawyer.”  Why?

 “Anyone can advertise anything in the yellow pages. The same is true of any advertising–TV, radio, direct mail. The law does not recognize specialties, as a rule. Unlike physicians, who get board certified in obstetrics, pediatrics, etc., we lawyers don’t have boards. We can advertise that we practice in any legal area. There are no competency tests to pass. So, I could decide tomorrow that I don’t want to try cases anymore, and I could put an ad in the yellow pages, and I could say, “Real Estate Closings” or “Trusts.”

I didn’t think that statement about lawyers not having boards could be true so I looked it up. This book was written back in 2000 but the National Trial Board of Advocacy Division (NBTA) of the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC) was founded in 1977.

On the NBLSC homepage it states that “The National Board of Trial Advocacy Division of the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification was the first American Bar Association accredited attorney board certifying agency in the world. Founded in 1977, NBTA offers board certification for Trial Lawyers, Criminal Lawyers, and Family Lawyers. NBLSC also offers board certification for Social Security Disability Lawyers….Consumers may click here to find our board certified lawyers, or click here for a list of links to other credible attorney certification boards. Currently fewer than 4% of all practicing lawyers are certified by an ABA accredited or state sponsored certification board.” 

NCDD Natn'l College for DUI Defense Law Furthermore, “In 2003 the American Bar Association (ABA) recognized DUI Defense Law as a legal specialty area of practice, and the following year the ABA accredited the College to certify lawyers in the DUI Defense Law specialty area. The National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD) is presently the only organization accredited by the ABA in this specialty field. ABA accreditation is currently recognized in over 20 states…”

So it seems at the time of the publishing of this book, board certification in specialities for lawyers did exist, so I’m puzzled about why the author claimed otherwise. What’s more, on the copyright page of the book, it says that “this book is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered.” That word authoritative to me means the author is an expert on the subject. Hmmm… am I getting something wrong here? Why would she say that board cert specialties don’t exist for lawyers?

Ben Matlock

Ben Matlock, a lawyer, TV show Matlock

OK, further digging on the NBLSC website backed up some of what the author claimed. It too talked about how doctors are forbidden from practicing medicine without proof of board certification in their specialty, and it goes on to say that “Before the NBLSC’s founding in 1977 no such mechanism existed for lawyers. Potential clients were forced to rely on word of mouth or advertisements when seeking help in situations often as dire as failing health. The problem was (and remains) that lawyers admitted to their state bar were (and still are) free to accept cases in any area of the law...unlike the medical profession, which has embraced specialization and specialty certification, the legal profession has been slow to acknowledge publicly what it has known for years: nearly all lawyers specialize but do so without substantiation beyond “reputation” or simply saying it’s so.

OK, so it seems the author technically is “accurate” in saying that lawyers don’t have to be board certified, because while board certification does exist, unlike doctors, lawyers are not required to be board certified to practice a specialty.

Now that that’s settled, the author’s other advice on How to Hire a Lawyer, is “Do not hire a lawyer you have not met,” and if this is unavoidable, “ALWAYS [sic] interview the lawyer on the phone.”

She says that “a resource called Martindale-Hubbell’ is a good way to check out the background of a lawyer…every community library in the country has one. It is also on the internet at lawyers.com. It tells things like when a lawyer was born, and when she was licensed to practice law, and where she went to law school and what her area of practice is. Sometimes it will give additional information like representative clients, and associations to which the lawyer belongs.”

I checked both sites and the information given depends on the lawyer you look up. This is what comes up on Martindale for our lawyer-President, Barack Obama:

Barack Obama profile on Martindale.com

Her BIG SECRET about finding a lawyer?

“Bar association referral services are about the worst places to find lawyers. They are worst than yellow pages….For a hundred dollars…depending on the association, I can list myself with a bar association as a bankruptcy lawyer. I can also list myself as a real estate lawyer, workers’ compensation lawyer, copyright lawyer, and on and on. As many lists as I am willing to pay to be on, they will put me on, without regard to whether I know a darn thing about that area of law.”

That makes sense to me considering that stated earlier, lawyers are not required to be board certified for specialties. She says the best way to find a lawyer is from a referral from another lawyer or from someone else you trust. I asked a lawyer and she too said that is the best way to find a lawyer.

Every Woman Should Go to Law School or Read this Book Anyhow, seems the book may be worth a full read. It’s 272 pages, paperback, and can be found in your local library (that’s where I came across it).

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