Here are some (hopefully helpful) guidelines that might help you make your selection:
- Do not “lawyer shop” by price alone – This is the single biggest mistake you can make. Sure, price has its place in the overall criteria, but it’s not necessarily rooted in the old adage, “you get what you pay for.” Some attorneys are so invested in other cases that they often farm out probate cases to their paralegals or administrative staff who aren’t well versed in probate. Don’t get me wrong – paralegals are the heart and soul of most law firms and without them, many attorneys would crumble under the pressure. That said, if the attorney is only going to sign off on the pleadings and petitions without truly reviewing them for accuracy, grave mistakes might be made which could throw a wrench in an otherwise “simple” probate case.
- You don’t have to use the attorney who prepared the Last Will and Testament – As detrimental as this may be to our practice, the reality is that just because a particular attorney prepared the Will, this does not mean that attorney must handle the probate (although the person of the Will may expressly request this in the Will.)
- Do not assume that all attorneys practice Florida probate law - Yes, all Florida bar licensed attorneys are presumed competent to handle any kind of case. But would you want an heart surgeon tinkering around in your brain!
- How accessible is the attorney? - You shouldn’t expect every attorney to be available at your beck and call. I suppose no one expects that anyways. But you should be able to reach the attorney without a constant firewall of phone attendants, paralegals and administrative assistants. Are periodic phone consultations just part of the hourly fee or does the attorney truly value the client interaction? Phone tag gets old. Find out if the attorney is willing to communicate with you by email. (on a side note: We have recently begun to implement Basecamp with some of our clients, and they love it! Read more about Basecamp here)
- Is the attorney “hoarding” information? - If the attorney is tight lipped about your case, it’s probably because he or she is either holding out until you sign a retainer, or is concerned about malpractice (giving free advice over the phone, however altruistic, can get attorneys in hot water). In either case, there is always a bit of standard information that can be released to help a prospective client understand the probate issues inherent in the case. No one is entitled to free legal advice, but if the attorney is unreasonably tight lipped about even the most general concepts, you may be in for a very quiet relationship with that attorney!
Lastly, don’t go digging for information only to take it to the next attorney. That’s tacky. Attorneys know when you’re “lawyer shopping.” In your the personal representative or executor of an estate, you are probably required by statute to hire an attorney, so I suggest you choose wisely.
Get informed (read this blog) and then choose your attorney the right way. It will facilitate your working relationship with the attorney and you’ll be happier in the end.