I had a friend ask me recently who he should get to write a will for him. I gave him the names of a couple of colleagues that I know write wills, but I encouraged him to call and talk to these lawyers about his situation and how they charge fees before he hired one, actually, before he even set up an appointment. In other words, I didn't want him to just take my word on the referral, but rather to be sure to size up the attorney himself before engagement.
Being a lawyer myself, I am often asked for referrals to other attorneys when clients, friends, or family have a legal problem that involves an issue outside of my area of practice.
As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I worry more than I ever used to about offering referrals. I have routinely done so over the years, thinking that I was helping people whenever I did it, but every now and then a friend or family member has told me that I steered them wrong.
In one situation, one of my family members was upset because the lawyer that I sent him to misspelled his name in a pleading filed with the court. In another situation, an elderly friend told my wife and I that she was absolutely appalled when the lawyer that had I sent her to showed up in shorts for a client meeting he had with her (and then had the audacity to put his feet up on his desk in front of her). My friend the lawyer had apparently just come in from playing golf, and that certainly didn't meet with my friend the client's standards of professionalism! Heck, now that I think about it, my own father even got annoyed with me after I referred him to a very capable attorney – Dad had been charged a significantly larger attorney fee than expected for the documents he had to have drawn up by the lawyer whose name I had given him.
So, what's the lesson that I have learned?
Should I not try to play matchmaker when asked by others if I can recommend a good attorney for them – to write a will, or for a divorce, or to defend their son or daughter who may have been charged with a driving offense? It seems that nobody will let me off the hook with the answer, “Sorry, I'm not willing to offer any names, and I have my reasons!”
The truth is, I do know most of the attorneys in the local legal community. I have some sense of their capabilities and experience. I know some pretty darn good attorneys who work in a broad range of practice fields. So it really does make good sense for me to share the names of quality attorneys with friends, clients, and family, who may need specialized legal services that my law firm doesn't offer. Doesn't it?
I suppose so. But the lesson I have gleaned is that I must try to always do so with a healthy side lecture that goes something like this:
You want an attorney that handles _____________. So, I'm going to give you a name (or a list of names). But if you call one or more of the attorneys that I refer you to, please, do your own due diligence and thoroughly vet them yourself.
Talk to them at some length before you retain them.
Try to get a sense of whether their services would really be a good fit for you.
Make sure you get a quote of how much they would charge you for their help.
Ask around about them; in particular of other lawyers, judges, or prior clients of the attorney, if you can.
Read reviews posted about them on the Internet.
And, most importantly, make sure when you talk with them that they are someone that you actually like before you retain them.
Of course, you could do all those things, and still find out too late that the lawyer that you hired isn't a perfect speller, or doesn't realize they are supposed to dress up for a business meeting and keep their feet off the table.
But hopefully, your research will land you an experienced attorney in the specialized field of practice area that you need, one who is also a good person – someone who will try hard for and care about you.