Ask Stacy: How Do I Find a Good Lawyer?

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Sooner or later, you're going to need one. When the time comes, here's how to find the best attorney at the lowest cost.

Q: What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer?

A: A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.

Whether it’s something as simple as making a will or as complex as a murder trial, at some point in life, odds are you’ll need a lawyer. If you’ve heard horror stories about how much they charge or how they can sometimes complicate otherwise simple transactions, take it from me: They’re probably true.

Here’s this week’s reader question:

How do you find a lawyer? This is for legal issues regarding medical malpractice. My primary care doctors support that I need an attorney. They said once I get one they will help me with a case. — Heidi

Now, here’s how to go about finding a lawyer. Many of these tips will work for other professionals as well.

How to find a free lawyer

If you think your income might qualify you for free legal aid, check for connections to free legal aid programs in your local community. Keep in mind, however, that free legal aid isn’t available for all types of cases. Legal aid is generally available for those with low to moderate incomes and on such issues as domestic violence, family law, housing, public benefits, immigration, consumer issues and disability. 

They won’t help with criminal cases (public defenders do that) or civil cases for monetary damages, which is the type of case Heidi has.

How to find a good lawyer

If you’ve decided you need legal help, the way to hire a lawyer is the same way you’d hire any service professional, from a mechanic to a doctor.

  • Ask your friends or co-workers for referrals. The most useful advice will come from those sharing a situation similar to yours. There’s no point in going to a divorce lawyer if you have a personal injury case. Also, keep in mind that personal services are personal. In other words, just because your friend likes a certain attorney doesn’t mean you will.
  • Check a referral service. Many county bar associations offer referral services. For example, here’s one for Broward County, Florida. There are also commercial referral services, offered by sites like and Nolo, that will hook you up with a local lawyer. Note, however, that some directories might list every licensed practitioner in your area, while others may list only those lawyers who pay to advertise.

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