How To Find A Lawyer: Everything You Need to Know

Once you have decided you need a lawyer, it is a good idea to shop around.9 min read

Once you have decided you need a lawyer, it is a good idea to shop around. The first step is to compile a list of names. The recommendation of someone whose judgment you trust is an excellent place to start your search. You may want to begin by asking relatives, friends, clergy, social workers, or your doctor for recommendations. Often those persons can refer you to someone who has provided similar legal services for them. Remember that you need to know more about the lawyer than simply that the person is a good attorney. Ask the persons making the recommendation for specific information about the type of legal help the lawyer provided them and how their case was handled.

The following resources may assist you in your search for an attorney:

Bar Association Referral Lists

Many state and local bar associations maintain lawyer referral lists organized by specialty. You can consult the lawyer referral service for the name of an attorney who specializes in the type of case you have. Keep in mind that the referral is not a recommendation nor does it guarantee a level of experience. Bar associations may charge participating lawyers and law firms a fee to be included on the referral list. Also, many bar associations have committees that conduct training or public service work for the benefit of older people. An attorney serving on one of these committees could have the expertise you are looking for. Check the white or yellow pages (under "Lawyers") of the telephone book for the number of the state or local bar association.

Other Sources

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) is a nonprofit professional association of attorneys specializing in legal issues affecting older persons. NAELA is not a legal referral service; however, it does sell a registry listing over 350 member attorneys nationwide ($25 including shipping and handling).

National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

1604 N. Country Club Road

Tucson, Arizona 85716

There are also a number of lawyer directories. Two of the larger directories are likely to be available at your local library. The Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory lists 600,000 American and Canadian lawyers alphabetically by state and by categories. Each entry has a biography, which includes information on each lawyer's education, specialty, law firm, and the date of admittance to the bar. It also includes a "rating" based on information supplied by fellow lawyers. It does not include a rating by clients or judges. The Who's Who in American Law directory lists about 24,000 lawyers and includes biographical notes. This directory is somewhat difficult to use as the lawyers are listed alphabetically rather than by state or specific area of expertise.

Community Lawyer Referral Services

Many communities also have other lawyer referral services to assist people in finding a lawyer. Often the services are for specific groups such as persons with disabilities, older persons, or victims of domestic violence. Groups that may be good sources for a local referral include the Alzheimer's Association and other support groups for specific diseases, Children of Aging Parents, the Older Women's League, the state civil liberties union local social services agency, or the local agency on aging. Other referral services may be run by groups of attorneys specializing in a certain area. Some services may screen the lawyers who wish to have referrals in a particular area. If you use a referral service, ask how attorneys are chosen to be listed with that particular service. Many services make referrals to all lawyers who are members (regardless of type and level of experience) of a particular organization.

How Can Lawyers Advertise?

Lawyers are permitted to advertise within specific guidelines. You will be able to gather some useful information from the publicity, however, like advertisements in general, you should always be careful about what you read or hear. Many advertisements for attorneys specializing in certain areas of the law (such as personal injury or medical malpractice in which there may be substantial fees) offer free consultations. Other advertisements may list a set fee for a particular type of case. It is always a good idea to investigate further and to comparison shop. Many attorneys who do not advertise may also provide free consultations or offer set fees for a certain legal problem. Also, keep in mind your case may not be a "simple" one and set fees are usually for routine, uncomplicated cases.

In addition, the court and your banker may be good referral sources. Finally, the telephone book often lists lawyers according to their specialties.


There are a number of options for finding affordable legal help. Federally funded legal services programs exist in every state and there are pro bono or reduced-fee attorney panels and legal hotlines in a number of states.

Free Legal Help for Older People

The Older Americans Act (OAA) requires your state office on aging to fund a local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) program that provides free legal help on noncriminal matters to people age 60 and over. Each of the over 644 local AAAs sets aside funds to provide free legal assistance for those older persons who are in the greatest social and economic need. In many states, the AAAs contract with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funded programs described below. They may also set up their own programs or contract with private attorneys to provide legal services to older persons.

OAA Legal Services

OAA legal services advocates provide representation in court or at administrative hearings, community education, and self-help publications. The OAA programs offer other types of assistance and services as well. For example, an advocate may assist an older person with a food stamp appeal and arrange for transportation to a nutrition site. The OAA legal services programs do a great deal of outreach to the community. Some attorneys spend as much as half of their time speaking at senior centers or visiting people in their own homes.

There are no income guidelines that clients must meet in order to qualify for services. However, the legal services provider and the Area Agency on Aging may set priorities about the preferred type of representation, such as obtaining government benefits, and may not be able to provide help in cases the agency considers to be a lower priority.

Cost: No Cost to Eligible Clients

Eligibility & Access to Service: OAA legal services providers handle civil (not criminal) matters for persons age 60 or older regardless of income. Local offices set priorities for the types of cases they will handle. Not all cases can be handled.

Locating Local Agencies: Agencies providing free legal help to older persons can be identified by calling your local Area Agency on Aging listed in the government section of the telephone directory.