If I had to advise my own mother how to hire a lawyer, this is what I would say. (And, by the way, I used a slightly abbreviated version of these steps to choose the law firms I link to from this website).
1) Do a search on the internet for “Austin bankruptcy law” or “Cleveland probate lawyer” etc. If the attorney is not on the internet, there is a strong possibility that he/she is behind the times.
2) Look for someone that has a decent looking website. How they present themselves on their website probably correlates to how they present themselves in real life, and is often an indicator of how “on the ball” they are.
3) Don’t necessarily go with the top result. There are many ways to game the system and make a website show up as the first result under different search engines. Despite being first, they may not be the best choice for you. Look through at least 10-20 websites of law firms.
4) You want to find a website that is easy to read, has few ads, and appears to host mainly original content. This will help you distinguish the sites that are bogus from those that are run by people who are actual attorneys in business to help you.
5) You need to look for those attorneys that seem serious about practicing bankruptcy (or whatever legal practice area pertains to your legal matter). It doesn’t have to be their only practice area, but it should be a practice area that they discuss a bit on their website. Having some information and discussion about your specific legal area shows that they know something about it and care enough about that practice area to include it prominently on their website.
6) Look at their bio / resume for indicators of competency. It doesn’t have to be any one particular thing. You just want to see some indication that this person is smart and experienced. For example, you may find their years of experience impressive. Or their speaking engagements may be impressive. Or their education, or their professional memberships or other qualifications. The point is that something should strike you as impressive about their resume.
7) After reviewing many websites, narrow them down to your top three choices, and then contact all three of your top choice firms by submitting a contact request through their website. If it is not easy to contact them through their website, that is a red flag. Websites are a reflection of the attorney’s personality. If they don’t have easy means to communicate with them, they probably are not good communicators.
8) Pay careful attention to who calls you back first. If they just email you back, they aren’t very interested in your business. If they never contact you, don’t waste your time contacting them again. If they aren’t responsive now when they should be trying to earn your business, you can bet they won’t be responsive later when they already have your money.
9) Keep contacting law firms until you have several that call you back promptly. Then interview them over the phone for a few minutes. Ask a few questions. Is the person that called you friendly? Do they seem helpful and competent? The lawyer’s personality is going to be very similar to the assistant’s personality. A competent and helpful and friendly lawyer will not tolerate an inept, surly, lazy assistant.
10) Ask about fees. Price should not be the first consideration when hiring an attorney. It is much more important to hire a competent attorney than finding the cheapest lawyer in town (and you probably don’t want the cheapest lawyer in town). But I think it’s important to ask about fees just to see whether they are willing to talk to you about fees. You want a lawyer that is open and honest about what he or she charges. And, of course, you want to make sure their fees are not exorbitant and that you can afford them.
Also, it is important to know that there filing costs involved in filing your case. Make sure and check to see if the filing costs are included in the attorney fees, or if they are a separate charge. Some attorneys will try and market themselves as the best deal around, when in realty they are more expense than the average bankruptcy attorney due to the filings costs they did not disclose.
11) Go and meet in person with at least two, or preferably three attorneys. Hire whoever you like best and whoever seems most competent.