Unless you’ve worked with an attorney before, most people have no idea how to hire an attorney. It’s one of those things that come up only when you need to actually do it. This is by no means a comprehensive list of factors to consider, but it should give you a good starting point.

From my experience, I believe the first and foremost factor to consider in deciding whether to hire someone as your lawyer is being confident that they’re someone you can feel comfortable talking with and relying on. When you have an initial consultation with an attorney, you want to get some information from them about your specific legal problem and you want to find out how much it will cost to hire him or her. You also want to make sure they’re capable of helping you. Above all, you want to make sure you can stand being in the same room and have a conversation with this person for an hour or two. You are interviewing this person with the prospect of paying him or her a substantial amount of your hard-earned money. If you don’t have the feeling by the end of that initial consultation that you will work well together, you owe it to yourself to talk with other attorneys.

It may come as a shock to you, but lawyers don’t know everything about the law. Most of us know a lot about certain areas of the law, a little about other areas, and most importantly, most of us know where and how to find the answers to legal questions. When you’re interviewing an attorney, look for someone with experience in the area in which you need help. You wouldn’t go to a cardiologist for a problem with your foot, so use the same discretion with your legal problems. When you’ve found someone with experience in a certain area, he or she should be able to answer your basic questions, provide information and ask questions that make it clear he or she knows something about your problem. That being said, it’s not a bad thing when a lawyer says he or she needs to do a little research or look into the details of the law before giving you a definite answer. The law is constantly changing and it’s a good sign when attorneys want to make sure they’re giving accurate advice based on the most recent legal precedent. If an attorney is not comfortable helping you for whatever reason, maybe he or she can refer you to someone else.

You want to make sure an attorney has the time and commitment to help you with your problem. As a potential client, I would rather have a lawyer tell me up front that he or she is too busy to handle my case than find out down the road. If you get the feeling this person is too busy or not really interested in your case, it’s best to talk with someone else. You can always go back to the first person after meeting with another attorney if you wish.

You should ask how much your legal work will cost. Don’t be bashful about this because it’s probably an important factor in your decision. Even if money is no object (and I’ve never met anyone for whom money was really no object), you should know in advance what you’re getting into financially. Depending on the matter, attorneys may charge a flat fee (a set amount), a contingent fee (a percentage of the recovery in your case) or on an hourly basis. Most family law attorneys charge on an hourly basis, so it’s really tough to tell how much the total cost will be, but you can do some math to see how the costs can add up quickly if you’re not prudent about how you use his or her time.

When you’ve decided on an attorney, you should have a written agreement specifying the scope of his or her work, how you’ll be charged, whether anyone else will work on your matter and what you can each expect from the other person. Most attorneys who bill on an hourly basis require a retainer up front and you should make sure you understand how that retainer works. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask questions.