So you need to hire an employment lawyer but you don’t know how to get started? This article is for you.
Hiring a lawyer to guide you through an employment-related dispute can be challenging. Unlike cases involving personal injury matters, there aren’t hundreds of employment lawyers running TV advertisements in an attempt to get you to “Call now!” Quite the opposite is true in fact.
Due to the complicated statutory nature of employment law practice, there are likely only a small handful of lawyers in even a relatively large city who are Board Certified to represent employees in employment-related disputes. The few who are qualified and have the years’ of experience you should be looking for will likely be extremely busy because there are so few of them. For this reason it is important that you do some research and get your own materials together before you start making calls.
To get you started, we’ve prepared a handy guide outlining some of the basic steps you need to take.
Step 1 - Do a little research online.
Before you pick up the phone and start making calls, pick up your mouse and start making clicks. Good employment lawyers will have a website and/or a blog that will provide you with a lot of quality information about employment law issues. Take a look at what practice areas in which the lawyer claims he or she practices. You don’t want a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none attorney for your case. You want someone who concentrates the majority of his/her practice on employment law issues. You could also search legal directory avvo.com to help you find local lawyers who represent employees. It isn’t a perfect system but it will give you a good list to start your research.
Step 2 - Check for Board Certification
Lawyers are not required to be Board Certified in employment law to practice it in Texas. Some states don’t even provide for board certifications. But in Texas, the State Bar of Texas does provide Board Certification to those lawyers who practice employment law for a sufficient period of time, provide recommendations from lawyers and judges who they have practiced with and who pass a lengthy examination process. Chris McKinney is Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Step 3 - Expect to Fill Out a Questionnaire and Pay a Fee for a Consultation
Many firms have developed questionnaires. These are not idle exercises. You must fill them out to help your lawyer understand your case so he can better help you. Plus, filling out these short (usually electronic) forms may save you money. At the McKinney Law Firm, we use a short electronic form as an initial screening tool for the many potential client contacts we get each day. Sometimes, the form lets us know the issue is just a simple question for which we can provide a quick answer. Other times, we can tell that the type of case being described would be better handled by another lawyer who specializes in that specific niche — we can help get that referral set up at no cost. Sometimes the form lets us know that we simply can’t lend any assistance — we can let you know that too, again at no cost. If the form indicates an issue on which we think we can provide meaningful assistance, then we can set up a full, in-person consultation.
Most attorneys charge a small consultation fee to review employment-related matters. Because employment law is very fact specific, an employment lawyer needs to know all the facts of your case before he or she can commit to representing you. This often takes time. If employment lawyers are not paid something for this, they cannot stay in business.
Step 4 - Prepare for Your Consultation
Once you have a consultation with an employment lawyer scheduled, it is important that you prepare to make the most of the time you will have with the lawyer. Employment lawyers get dozens of contacts per week from potential clients and must be very selective about the cases they take. The initial consultation is your opportunity to make sure the attorney is well informed about the facts of your case. It is also your best chance to show the attorney that you are someone he or she wants to work with over the months and/or years that your matter may be pending on the firm’s docket.
A few tips:
- Take the meeting seriously and be prepared — Make sure you have good, clean copies (not originals) of any related documents with you when you arrive. Don’t expect the attorney to be your copy service and don’t leave your originals with the attorney.
- Bring a fact chronology — Employment cases are complicated and fact intensive. A lawyer will not be able to tell you whether he can help you unless he knows most of the details of your case. The best way to do this is to bring a simple fact chronology that outlines the factual timeline of your case. A simple “Date — Fact” format will work fine in most cases. If at all possible it should be typed and not hand-written.
- Be on time — Nothing says that you are not serious about your case like being late to your consultation. An attorney’s time literally is their money. Don’t waste it.
- Pay the requested consultation fee on time or have it ready when you walk in the door — If the matter is not important enough for a consultation fee then don’t make the appointment to begin with. But if you do make the appointment, don’t put the lawyer in the position of trying to collect a fee from you at your first meeting. It’s not the way to get off to a good start.
- Dress appropriately — How you dress communicates the level of seriousness you give the issue.
- Don’t bring unexpected guests — Attorney-client communications are privileged. This privilege can be lost if others sit in on the meeting. While someone else can certainly accompany you to the lawyer’s office, don’t expect them or ask for them to come into the meeting with you unless you cleared it in advance with the attorney. Dealing with this issue at the time of the meeting uses up valuable meeting time while the lawyer tries to assess whether they should be allowed into the meeting or not. Also, keep in mind that the lawyer wants to hear YOUR story and is less interested in your husband/wife, girlfriend/boyfriend or mother’s version of the story.
- Don’t bring children — I love children. But they should not be brought to your attorney consultation. They are a distraction for you and the attorney and it can sometimes be difficult to discuss sensitive matters in front of them. Get a sitter or ask a friend or family member to watch them for you.
Following these steps should help you find a well-qualified attorney to handle your employment-related legal matter.