How do I choose a good lawyer?

In his 2008 book entitled, Outliers, author/journalist Malcom Gladwell stated that “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.” He went on to say that, "an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields...[is that] you need to have practiced…for 10,000 hours before you get good." This is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when choosing a lawyer.

Your lawyer should have at least 10,000 hours of practice under his belt. Now, in literal terms, this translates into about 250 work-weeks or almost five years. But the truth is that most lawyers don’t work all day every day at their respective practices. Even more so, courtroom practice is an area that requires the development of specialized skills. If you don’t use those skills consistently and frequently, you lose those skills.

In essence, I believe that you should retain only those lawyers who have at least seven to ten years of experience in a particular area of law. Even in my own practice, while I would like to think that with my “real-life”, pre-lawyer business experience that I was good right out of law school, I noticed light years difference between my practice before and after the ten-year mark. At ten years of experience, not only had I learned to think outside the box to find solutions to seemingly impossible issues, but I had acquired the skills necessary to effectively execute those solutions.

It is one thing to know legal theory and principles. It is another thing to understand how to put that theory into practice to develop a plan. Further, your lawyer must not only know the law and know how to formulate a plan of attack, but your lawyer must understand how to execute the best plan to bring about the best possible resolution. So, in the practice of law there are three levels of mastery. There is “the theory” level, “the plan” level, and the “execution” level. Mastering all three levels of practice is necessary for a successful outcome, and a lawyer typically lacks the experience to master all three levels before he or she has practiced at least ten years.

So, don’t pick a lawyer with the biggest staff, the fanciest office, or who is the first result in Google—all of which have little or nothing to do with actual skill. Choose the lawyer with seven to ten years of experience in family law that preferably has some level of real-life experience beyond simply going from high school, to college, to law school, and then directly to law practice. Choose a lawyer who has a proven track record. Choose a lawyer that can help you find outside-of-box solutions to difficult problems.

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