How does one find a good lawyer? You would be surprised how often I am asked for a "good lawyer" for a certain kind of case—and not just from friends and neighbors but from other attorneys and even judges. There was a time when the only authoritative source of information on attorneys in the U.S. was the massive, multivolume Martindale-Hubbell Directory. Organized by city, county, and state, the directory listed an individual attorney’s undergraduate institution, law school, year of admission to the bar, etc. You looked for an individual in the blue pages. In the white pages, law firms took out expensive ads that extolled their partners’ expertise, specializations, representative clients, short biographies on their attorneys—including law review experience, languages spoken, and other accomplishments that clients might consider desirable in a counselor. Now, Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (www.law.cornell.edu) announced it has joined forces with Justia (www.justia.com) to create a new and different, free attorney directory (http://lawyers.law.cornell.edu). But where have we come from, and where are we going?
West entered the fray with the West Legal Directory that listed every active member of the bar and gave each member an opportunity to embellish his or her basic listing with advertising material, such as photos, links to law firm websites, etc. Just as the firm ads in Martindale-Hubbell helped offset the print-publishing costs, the ads in the West Legal Directory offset the electronic costs. In the ever-increasing number of takeoffs on the old phone book principle, attorney directories give the listings and sell the ads.
FindLaw (www.findlaw.com) continues the tradition by providing the West Legal Directory to its users. In the lay section, attorneys are listed by proximity to the searcher’s designated city or ZIP code, and there are a number of "legal issue" subjects to narrow the search in order to locate relevant lawyers within a certain mile radius. You can even "describe your legal issue online and be contacted by a lawyer … on FindLaw LegalConnection." There are "guides" on hiring a lawyer, understanding the U.S. legal system, and researching attorney discipline; there are also resources regarding state bar associations, state legal aid, and state and federal courts. One can even limit a search to attorneys who offer a free consultation and/or take credit cards!
In the "professional" area of FindLaw, there is another attorney directory from Thomson Legal Record with many more legal topics. Results from this directory include photos, biographies, areas of practice, certification/specialties, bar admissions, education, published works and classes taught, representative cases (with cites), representative clients, professional associations and other memberships, in addition to a "Litigation Record" powered by Westlaw (log on with your password or pay by credit card, thank you) to get federal and state dockets, appellate opinions, judges, etc.
I would recommend that one search both the public FindLaw lawyer locater and the professional version—I got different lists of attorneys in my search!
LexisONE (www.lexisone.com), the public access version from LexisNexis, has martindale.com (www.martindale.com), a free site for finding a lawyer or a law firm by legal topic, practice area, geographical proximity, peer-review ratings (original to Martindale-Hubbell), and legal articles. Searchers can even create "watch lists" to compare lawyers and law firms!
A number of new kids on the block have arrived, such as Lawyers.com (www.lawyers.com), with searches by location or topic and the ability to ask attorneys to review your case and get back to you. Another site, RocketLawyer.com (www.rocketlawyer.com) —in partnership with Lawyers.com and, recently, LexisNexis—provides free listings for attorneys and provides the public with "live advice" by talking/chatting with a lawyer "right now."
As previously mentioned, the newest entrants are the Legal Information Institute (the Cornell University-based, free resource for legal information) and Justia, another free source of legal resources. Justia built its directory the same way West’s Legal Directory did—by creating listings for every practicing attorney and then allowing free searching by topic and geography. But it also provides access to local legal services and pro bono agencies as well as private lawyers and law firms! There are "badges" on some of the listings, which indicate whether the entry in the directory is a website design client of Justia; whether the entry donates to the Legal Information Institute and, if so, the level of the donations (wow); and whether the attorney, firm, or entity is "verified by Nolo" (which has its own lawyer directory) and has taken the "Nolo pledge of service and had their licensing credentials checked." There is a badge indicating that the entry has a legal blog (called a blawg) listed on Justia’s BlawgSearch.com (editorially accepted after submitting the blawg for consideration) and a "Legal Bird" badge for entries that "contribute valuable legal information and commentary to the online community [through wikis, and legal, social, and open source networks, etc.]. Lawyers who link their Twitter feeds to their Justia Lawyer Directory Profile receive a Legal Birds Badge, which can boost their visibility in searches."
With this service, the two organizations help you find "public-spirited lawyers" and "tell you whose heart we think is in the right place. Lawyers who support the LII receive a special ‘badge’ that lets you know who they are—and they stand out in our search rankings. For lawyers, the directory offers the opportunity to do well by doing good. The service is very reasonably priced. In fact, it’s free—every American lawyer we were able to identify has a basic profile in Justia’s directory. …"
If you find a couple of lawyers in the different online directories, Justia would be a terrific place to check for the most "public spirited" of the two! While not an endorsement, you would know which lawyer contributes to the publicly available legal information on the internet—as a contributor to LII and to social and other networks and as a publisher of informative pieces for the edification of the public.
The Nolo listings (www.nolo.com) are perhaps the most complete and informative because the site uses questionnaires for the attorneys that prompt them for information on education, association memberships, real examples of cases he or she has handled (without having to log on to a commercial information provider, thank you), work history, activities and awards, his or her Martindale-Hubbell rating, and personal profile and philosophy. The listings even include the attorneys’ office locations, hours, names of staff—and fees! Yes, the lawyers indicate any fixed-price services and their fees, hourly rates, whether they do free initial consultations, their typical retainer, etc. Oh, my gosh! Full disclosure, up front!
If an attorney/law firm wants to be visible to everyone who has access to the internet, they could also advertise on Find an Attorney (www.findanattorney.com), Attorney Pages (www.attorneypages.com), Lawyer Finder (www.lawyerfinder.com), and goodness knows how many more directories they could find and/or afford.
Of course, you will want to be sure the attorney you locate is admitted to practice (e.g., has passed the bar exam) and is in good standing with a clean disciplinary record in your jurisdiction! In addition, you would want to verify any "specialization" or other superior qualifications he or she has claimed. For that, you would go to your local state’s bar, or, for simplicity’s sake, link to www.llrx.com/node/1761/print for Andrew Zimmerman and Trevor Rosen’s "A Compilation of State Lawyer Licensing Databases," freshly updated Jan. 19, 2009.
You could also check Legal Dockets Online (www.legaldockets.com/attorneys/index.html) for links to state lawyer licensing and disciplinary authorities in addition to local bar association directories and phone numbers for lawyers.
If all of this has made your eyes cross, the American Bar Association has a Consumers’ Guide to Legal Help on the Internet for your state with lawyer referrals; free legal help; legal information; self-help (for those going it alone); Other Ways to Find a Lawyer with commercial law directories, case bidding services (post your legal problem and lawyers will bid for your case, and you decide which to accept), and prepaid legal service plans, etc., at www.abalawinfo.org/find1.html.
Can’t afford an attorney? The site www.lawhelp.org helps "low and moderate income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, and answers to questions about their legal rights." The site provides a list to find information with "problems related to housing, work, family, bankruptcy, disability, immigration and other topics. LawHelp is your gateway to America’s nonprofit legal aid providers."
The American Bar Association has its FindLegalHelp.org at www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/freehelp.cfm, which links you to legal services, pro bono assistance, and other sources, including special help for elders, people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, and other specific populations.
So there are ever-expanding ways to locate competent, licensed, discipline-free lawyers in good standing who also contribute legal information in public-spirited open sources such as wikis, social networks, etc. You can determine whether an attorney gives a free, initial legal consultation or whether an attorney charges by the task or by the hour; you can find what the attorney’s hourly rate is and what the usual retainer will be, etc. And, if this is too expensive, you can also locate free and sliding-scale legal services, pro bono, and other resources. Gosh, this is a great time to be a legal consumer!
In the future, I see consolidation of the legal directories, much as Westlaw purchased FindLaw years ago and LexisNexis acquired Martindale-Hubbell and, more recently, created partnerships such as with RocketLawyer. Since all attorneys cannot find, much less afford, the money and/or time to enhance their listings on all of the many sites, I believe those directories that don’t provide unique services or visibility to a specific lawyer-targeted segment of the population will likely wither away. In the meantime, consumers are getting more and better information to determine the best attorney for them based on financial, philosophical, and public-spirited karma, as well as geographical proximity and competence in the particular legal field.