How Do You Know if a Lawyer is Good?

While getting a referral from the bar association or referral service, you should have asked if there was any record of the lawyer's disciplinary history. But since many of those listings are actually supplied and paid for by the lawyer, there may not be any negatives to speak of, so you may want to treat this the same way you deal with a referral made by a friend or neighbor, and dig deeper. The Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory is a complete listing of domestic and international lawyers by state and specialty. It is available in most public libraries and provides background information on how long a lawyer has been in practice, where and when he or she got degrees, and more.

You can access it, along with the search feature, at the company's website, Unfortunately, it's still just a surface measure of an attorney's background; you will not find out whether an advisor has had complaints and malpractice suits filed against him or her. In fact, that kind of crucial information about lawyers is lacking almost everywhere you turn. Few states make all complaints available to the public from the time allegations were filed. Most states will reveal grievance filings, but only around the time when the state bar association's grievance committee has decided to issue charges against the attorney. Those committees can take ages to make a decision, and those charges can end in "admonitions" or "private reprimands," where only the lawyer and the aggrieved client know what happened. Regardless of those shortcomings, call your state or local bar association's grievance committee for any records it can provide pertaining to your prospective attorney. In addition, check with your local Better Business Bureauâ

By Chuck Jaffe
Chuck Jaffe is a senior columnist and host of two weekly podcasts at MarkWatch. He has also been a guest speaker on several television and radio shows.

Copyrighted 2020. Content published with author's permission.

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