One challenge you may face when deciding whether to hire an attorney is being unsure what an attorney does or what an attorney can do for you. The short answer is that an attorney can advise you on the law and how it relates to your circumstances. But what does that mean? 

Our society is built on relationships. Some of those relationships are explicit, such as a marriage, or a relationship formed by a contract. Others are not so obvious, such as the relationship between a customer and a store owner, a doctor and a patient, an individual and their house guest, or between an individual and the corporation that made their car. Built into each one of those relationships are certain obligations owed between the parties in the relationship. It should come as no surprise, then, that in a world where people hold different viewpoints and behave in different ways, confusion often arises about the terms of a relationship and the attendant obligations–even when it’s explicitly set forth in writing. Laws and regulations exist to guard against such confusion and to define the terms and obligations of a relationship when they are otherwise unclear. 

Therefore, when an attorney advises you on the law he or she is really just helping you define and understand the terms and obligations of your relationship–be that relationship with an insurance provider, another driver, a doctor, a corporation, friends, family members, the government, or a prospective business partner. And when the nature and existence of a relationship dictates who might be responsible for physical and financial injury, an attorney that understands the law defining those relationships is a very valuable asset.

However, even with an understanding of what an attorney does, hiring one may seem like a daunting task. There are many perceptions of attorneys that make the decision to hire an attorney a difficult one. You may feel intimidated by complicated and expensive fee structures, or feel as though an attorney won’t take your case because the case is not valuable enough. These perceptions are unfortunate because the best attorneys will be highly attuned to your interests and put those interests first–even if that means referring a you to another attorney better equipped to respond to your particular needs. 

When looking for the right attorney remember that you–and the attorney–will be best served by finding someone you trust. The best resource for a trusted attorney is often those people in your family or within your circle of friends that you already trust. If you don’t have an attorney in your family or within your circle of friends then seek references. There are many attorneys out there, and it should not take too many inquiries to find one. Even if you’re referred to an attorney who doesn’t specialize in or handle the particular type of case you have, they can easily refer you to another attorney that does.   

If you can’t find an attorney through personal contacts you might consult the Arizona State Bar Association. The State Bar is the organization which all Arizona attorneys must be a member in order to practice law in the state. You can contact the State Bar via its website or by telephone to secure a list of those attorneys who are certified by the State Bar as specialists in the handling of various matters. That certification is based on an attorney’s experience, knowledge and ethics and is a good indicator of his or her ability.

There is also no shortage of advertising for attorneys. If there is one thing every American has in common it’s being exposed to an advertisement for an attorney. If you use advertising to find an attorney, remember that the best lawyers don’t always have the biggest or flashiest advertisements. Some of the best attorneys engage in little to no advertising, they get their cases from referrals from other attorneys due to their reputation for doing good work and getting good results. 

Finally, remember that you don’t have to hire an attorney just because you meet with him. Most lawyers provide a free initial consultation. This is a good time to ask questions, determine if you’re comfortable with the attorney, and get information about fees and costs. Before you agree to hire an attorney to represent you make sure to get a written agreement that clearly sets forth the nature and scope of representation and describes the fee arrangement. 

Despite what you may hear, attorneys occupy a profession that is, for the most part, trustworthy and honest. Every attorney licensed to practice law in Arizona has sworn a public oath to uphold the honor of the courts, maintain the confidentiality of clients, to be truthful in their representation of clients, and adhere to a code of professional conduct. If an oath does not instill confidence, remember that an attorney is running a business like any other person, and the success of an attorneys business depends on maintaining the confidentiality and respect of his former clients, and his professional reputation among his peers.  

Brad Hill is a practicing attorney in Portland, Oregon.