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April 12, 2012

How to Find the Right Litigation Attorney

by Eric Parkinson, Attorney and Counselor at Law

Being served with a lawsuit can be a shock, even if you expect it. How do you find the right attorney to represent you?  In this post, I’ll provide you with some tips that will help you make the right choice.

First off, when you get served with a lawsuit, you will typically find that the process server has actually given you two separate documents: a summons and a complaint. As soon as you receive these documents, record the date they were handed to you. This is critical because you usually have just 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit with the court and, to make this calculation, your attorney will obviously need to know when you were served.[1]  Once you’ve recorded the date you were served, you should immediately begin searching for the right attorney to represent you. You should simultaneously begin to compile a written chronology of the key events that led up to the lawsuit that you can provide to each attorney you speak with.

So how do you find the right lawyer?  In a nutshell, you need to be a smart consumer of legal services. Understand that litigation can cost a lot of money – your money. Don’t waste it; don’t be “pennywise and pound foolish” as the proverb goes. Take some time to “shop around” – interview the attorneys you speak with as if you were hiring them build an addition to your home and don’t be afraid to ask questions of each one you speak with. It never ceases to amaze me when I discover how little research a client has done when s/he comes into my office for help after having been through one or sometimes two previous attorneys.

If you don’t know any attorneys, perhaps you have some family members or trusted friends who you can rely on to point you in the right direction. If not, contact an attorney referral service. For a list of certified lawyer referral services in California, visit the State Bar’s website at www.calbar.ca.gov/lrs.

The right lawyer for you will:

  • Have at least some expertise in the area of substantive law that the lawsuit is concerned with;
  • Have a good reputation in the community in which s/he practices;
  • Try to calm you down and get you to think about your case dispassionately since we all know that decisions based on emotions are usually very poor decisions; and
  • Be willing to provide you with a litigation budget that will give you some idea of the cost involved in litigation.

Having an aggressive advocate can be beneficial, but “scorch-the-earth” litigation tactics are rarely in a client’s best interests. So be wary of attorneys who seek to intensify your anger or goad you into escalating the battle – such practitioners are often serving their own pocketbooks, not your interests. Remember that litigation makes money for the attorneys on both sides of the fence, so finding one who is quick to make a mountain out of a molehill is usually going to make matters worse for you. In short, look for a legal problem solver.

If you follow this advice, you are likely to find an attorney you can trust to represent your best interests in the lawsuit.


[1] In most cases, the defendant is allowed 30 days to respond to the complaint after the service of summons, but this is not true in every type of case. For example, in an unlawful detainer action the defendant must file a response to the complaint within just 5 calendar days of the service of the summons and complaint. (Code Civ. Proc., §1167.)
Eric Parkinson is an attorney and litigator with over 17 years of experience, and his office is based in San Luis Obispo, California. You can reach him by phone at 805.783.1070 or by email at [email protected]

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