There are a lot of lawyers out there. How do you find the one that is the right fit for you and your situation? The answer may be as close as a phone call to your neighboring construction company.
When choosing a lawyer, referrals are probably the most effective way to find a lawyer who has the expertise and traits to handle your case in a manner you find acceptable. "The best way to find a great lawyer would be to find one that your colleague has used or you could even start by calling one of your competitors," says Tamara McNulty, a partner with Venable LLP. "Maybe your competitor had a problem on another job and they used a certain lawyer. You can use this person to find out what their experience was with that attorney."
There are certainly alternative ways to find a potential lawyer. However, they may not be the most beneficial. "I don't think opening the phone book and looking for construction lawyers is the ideal way to go about your selection process," says McNulty. "I don't even think going to someone's bio on their firm's website or doing a Google search for construction lawyer is necessarily best." McNulty believes that some lawyers consider themselves construction lawyers, though they may not intimately know the industry. While others may know the industry but are not effective litigators.
Instead you should use more established and recognized sources, such as: the American Bar Association's Forum on the Construction Industry and Martindale. The next resource to tap would be local construction associations like AGC or AOD or local Building Congress - these local trade associations should be able to steer you in the right directions.
McNulty adds: "The thing about construction lawyers is that they join those organizations too if they are serious about construction law. You can find out from the various trade organizations who are the real construction lawyers because they are probably going to be members."
Find an expert
Two pitfalls you will want to avoid when identifying potential lawyers is picking someone just because they are local and picking a general practitioner. "There are significantly different levels of expertise and you need to find somebody who spends their day working with your problem," stresses Bert Brannen, partner with Fisher & Phillips LLP. "If it's a wage-and-hour problem you need to find a wage-and-hour expert, or an OSHA problem you need an OSHA expert as opposed to a general, all-purpose lawyer."
McNulty adds that you should look for a lawyer that can litigate and more importantly understand the industry. "I think the most important thing is does your lawyer really understand construction law?" asks McNulty "Particularly if you have a large/complicated claim, you don't necessarily need to have a lawyer who is local."
The person you need may be in another state. If the right person for the job isn't in your area you shouldn't hire a litigator just based on distance. "You hire a construction lawyer and you get local counsel to help you get through the filing," explains McNulty.
What you want to consider is, Does this person know your industry? Can he speak the language? Will he understand the nuances of your claim? McNulty paints a sobering picture about not being represented by an experienced lawyer saying "In the federal law arena, if you screw up your damages you can potentially be subject to fraud-like counterclaims, and instead of you getting paid, you'll pay the government for their time and trouble." She adds "You want someone who knows the area of construction law and the area of government law if it's a government project."
Once you have identified the lawyer you are interested in working with, the best thing to do is call to schedule a time to meet. "Pick up the telephone because lawyers know they have to sell their business and they will respond a lot faster to a live person than to a unsolicited e-mail," says Brannen. "Most lawyers will be excited at the prospect of developing a new client and they will jump through hoops to go see the client. If they don't do that, that's not the lawyer for you."