It's sometimes hard to find a lawyer to represent a single tenant in a landlord/tenant dispute, often because it's not cost-effective to hire an attorney.
You may be able to get the legal help you need through low-cost legal resources in your area, including:
- A local tenant's union
- Your state Attorney General's Office (ask for help under consumer protection laws on landlord-tenant matters)
- Government-funded legal service providers in your area who take tenant cases on a sliding fee scale or if you make below a certain amount of income
- City government offices that enforce the city's landlord-tenant ordinances
If there is several months' worth of rent involved, or you know of other tenants who are having similar problems with the same landlord, you may be able to find an attorney to take your case on a hourly basis.
Besides working with certain types of clients, it is common for lawyers to concentrate their practices on either real estate transactions, such as negotiating leases or sales, or lawsuits related to those issues. Choose the lawyer who can best serve your needs.
Searching for the Right Lawyer
You'll want to find out every thing you can about the lawyers and then do some initial screening to narrow your list to three or four candidates.
Lawyers.com offers resources to help you find a lawyer. You can access biographical information and lawyer ratings, along with contact information. A broader internet search can provide news items and law firm web sites. Law firm web sites often give information on the types of clients the firm works with, and on past cases. You're also likely to find information on the area of law the lawyer focuses his or her practice on. Look at the biographies and web sites for the lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to have expertise representing tenants? Other search criteria includes:
- You will probably want to hire a lawyer with at least a few years of experience
- Lawyers who represent landlords, contractors, developers, banks and financial institutions may not represent consumers with problems in this area. If you're not sure what type of client the lawyer represents, call the lawyer's office and find out
- Look for a list of representative clients. Are they the types of clients that you would want your lawyer representing?
- Search the internet under the name of the lawyer and his or her law firm. Can you find any articles, FAQs or other informational pieces that the lawyer has done that give you a level of comfort?
- Ask other people if they have heard of the lawyers and their opinions
- Check with your state's bar association or licensing board to check the status of the lawyer's license
- Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. If the lawyer advertises, is the ad compelling, helpful and tasteful?
- Check out local papers and news web sites for publicity about the lawyer or the cases that he or she has handled
- Check if the lawyer is affiliated with bar associations related to real estate or landlord-tenant law. Membership in community business groups such as the chamber of commerce may be a good sign, depending on your case
- Try to find a lawyer with a convenient location
- Ask for and check out references before hiring the lawyer; ask for past clients, if possible. You're looking for comment on the lawyer's skills and character
- Ask about conflicts of interest. The lawyer may not be able to take your case if he or she represents opposing parties
- Ask for a copy of a firm brochure and promotional materials that the firm may have. They're a good crosscheck to use with your other references
Making Your Decision
Ask to be provided with a copy of the lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before deciding on retaining the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm. Hiring the lawyer means spending money and other resources, so be sure you understand your agreement. You can be confident about getting the legal help you need to solve your problem.