Real estate is unique, and the legal issues touching real estate can be both unique and high stakes. Real estate ownership for individuals usually means home ownership, and it's the single largest asset many people own. It's important to have the right legal help if you face a problem touching the ownership or use of your real property.
Plan your search for the right real estate attorney to help answer your questions and solve your real estate issues.
Identify Your Property Type and Legal Issue
Start your search for the right lawyer by identifying the type of real estate and legal issues you have. Not all real estate and related legal issues are the same. Real estate lawyers may focus their practices on subcategories of real estate law, such as:
Related areas of law include environmental and construction law. Having a general idea of the type of real estate and the issues you have can help you narrow your search, save time and find the lawyer who is the best fit.
Real estate lawyers may focus on lawsuits (called litigators) or transactions and contracts (called transactional lawyers), or both.
Sometimes it's hard for consumers to find a lawyer when the problem is a lawsuit against a landlord, contractor, lender or land developer. You may have an easier time finding the right lawyer when a consumer protection law is behind your claim (for example, a truth in lending statute). Class action lawsuits are an option when others share a situation similar to yours against the same party.
Make a List of Candidates
If you don't already have a list of prospective real estate lawyers, a great place to start your search is right here at Lawyers.com. You can search for lawyers by location, practice area or find more information about a certain lawyer or law firm.
Here some other resources:
- The local bar association and real estate bar association in your area
- The American Bar Association
- References from family, friends and business contacts, including real estate brokers and agents you've worked with. There's a good chance one of these contacts faced a similar real estate issue and can share information about the lawyer he or she used
- Local phone directories
- Your city's chamber of commerce
- Legal aid programs, if you think you can't afford legal fees; some programs offer free or reduced-cost services
Research the Candidates and Create Your Short List
Next, find out every thing you can about the lawyers and then do some initial screening to whittle down your list to three or four prospective candidates:
- Look at the biographies and web sites for the lawyers and their law firms
- Search the internet and local papers under the name of the lawyer and his or her law firm. Look for articles by the lawyer and related information
- Contact your state bar association or go to its web site to find out if the lawyer is in good standing
- Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
- You will probably want to hire a lawyer with at least a few years of experience
- Find out if the lawyer works on cases similar to yours, and for a list of representative clients
- Look to see if a lawyer is affiliated with associations that cater to your legal issues. For example, most bar associations have sections in real estate law and related areas. Civic activities may be a good sign, depending on your needs
- A local office is often important and practical in real estate cases
- Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from a lawyer who speaks a language other than English?
Interview Candidates and Make Your Decision
Once you have a short list of candidates, interview each one, gather added information and make your hiring decision. You're on the way to solving your real estate issues. Here are steps to help with your final selection:
- Contact the lawyer by phone; depending on your needs, a phone interview may be all that's needed. Ask if the lawyer offers a free initial consultation if you want to meet the lawyer before making a hiring decision
- Ask the lawyer for any informational brochures or materials on the law firm
- Ask candidates questions about how they would handle your case
- Ask about any conflicts of interests - does the lawyer or his or her firm represent opposing parties in your case?
- Obtain references and follow up before making a hiring decision. It's best if you can talk to several types of referral sources such as past clients or those with interests in a real estate matter, such as real estate agents
- Address the lawyer's fees. Depending on your case, the lawyer may charge hourly or flat fees. You should feel comfortable about asking billing questions, and with the answers you receive
You've done your research and you're ready to select the best lawyer for your needs. Be confident in your choice and in moving towards solving your real estate issues.