If you’ve ever considered asking for legal help but feel too intimidated, you’re not alone. Most people try to solve their problems on their own because they may have the wrong idea about hiring a lawyer.

It all comes down to getting the most helpful information before you get a lawyer to take your case. And that means asking the right questions, in the right order.

The first few questions pertain to your preliminary research (what you should ask yourself and those around you). Then direct later questions to a legal representative at the firm(s) you investigate.

Here are the 10 questions to ask:

What do others say about the firm?

Write down a few names within your inner circle. This is a question for your friends, neighbors, or members of your congregation. If your legal issue is sensitive and you want to keep your inquiry private, then you won’t want to reach out on social media or in person. However, you can make inquiries through your local bar association-but keep in mind that you may not have any way to sort out which firm has your best interests.

What size of law firm is best for me?

Remember, unless you’re a company mogul attempting a hostile takeover of a competing corporation, you probably won’t need a huge law firm. Consider looking online to find out some basic information about area law firms. You’ll be able to get an idea of size and scope as well as areas of specialty.

What is the firm’s track record?

It should go without saying, but if you’re paying for the privilege, you need to know if a given firm has a great track record or not. If you really aren’t comfortable asking this question directly to a given firm (or if you want an unbiased response), then try your local law school or get in touch with a law librarian over the phone. He or she may be able to help you find important statistics and reports on case
losses and wins.

What can I learn from legal websites?

To clarify, you’re going to be looking at websites for the firms you have an interest in contacting. You can learn a great deal from browsing a firm’s website. For instance, pay attention to information that mentions their legal association, rankings, awards, and client satisfaction.

Some sites may contain testimonials; some may not. Overall, you need to spend time on each site to learn important clues. If the site is poorly written or designed, it won’t send a great message. True, the law firm may be so busy that they just haven’t had time to update their site. However, these hints may suggest you should look at other firms.

Who will actually handle the details of my case?

By now, you’re probably talking to legal representatives from various firms. If you haven’t been able to answer this question by browsing a FAQ page somewhere, you need to ask over the phone or in person. Remember that your billing may depend on whether or not many of your case details are handed by a paralegal vs. a lawyer, so you’ll want to know exactly who will take charge of the majority of the details on your case.

In the past, have you handled cases like mine? If so, how many?

This dual question gets at the heart of a lawyer’s experience. If you’re worried that you won’t know how to interpret the answer, don’t be too concerned; the more firms you interview, the more you’ll begin to see patterns emerge in the answers you get. Be sure your attorney’s experience is enough to give you confidence and justify the legal costs.

How will you keep me informed during my case?

For especially-difficult cases or cases where you need to maintain in close contact with your legal team, it matters if you get those necessary updates, so be sure to pin down the specifics. If you sense that a given firm isn’t great about communicating, you may want to keep searching.

How does your firm deal with fees and billing?

The 3 most common billing methods are by the hour, by a one-time assessment, or by contingency fees. If it’s the latter, this means that the firm doesn’t collect fees unless they recover on your behalf. For instance, most (if not all) injury law firms operate by contingency.

If the billing method IS contingency, you’ll have a sub-set of further questions to ask:

  • What is the likelihood you can recover financially for me?
  • Can you give me an estimate of a typical recovery amount in cases like mine?
  • What percentage do you apply to my recovery amount (in other words, how much will you collect off of my recovery)?
  • What happens if you settle my case right away?

What is your legal style and approach? Do I need mediation or arbitration?

Know what kind of legal style your lawyer will take. You want to feel comfortable with the approach and know that it matches your legal need.

Do you offer a free initial consultation?

Before you make your final choice, get the details on whether that initial consultation will be free-of-charge or if the cost will be added to your total bill.

Now you’re ready to make legal headway, no matter your case! Good luck!