Strategies for Hiring the Best Real Estate Lawyer
Real estate law is a unique legal niche that requires a certain level of prowess and skill not typically found with other areas of the law. Lawyers who practice in this specialty devote countless hours to researching the housing and property laws not only in their city, county, and state but also at the federal level.
As such, a real estate lawyer can be one of your most valuable allies when you have a pressing legal concern that pertains to your home, business, or land. You can retain the most competent advocate and get the professional representation you need to close the case in your favor by knowing first how to hire the best real estate lawyer.
Identify the Reason for Why You Need a Lawyer
Real estate law actually encompasses numerous specialties within itself, all of which are pursued from different aspects in and out of court. Because of the different facets of real estate law, you must identify exactly the nature of your own case and the specific reasons for why you need or want to retain a real estate lawyer.
Some of the more common facets that make up real estate law in all 50 states include:
- buying a home or commercial building
- renting or leasing a home or building
- landlord and/or tenant disputes
- use of residential or commercial land
- mortgage or equity loan issues
- construction defects
- neighbor complaints
- general ownership concerns
Each of these specific concerns require actions that may or may not pertain to other areas of real estate law. For that reason, you should clarify the exact nature of your case so that you can hire a lawyer who is experienced and ready to help you. You also lay the foundation for a case that you may be able to take to court and win or settle outside of court to your favor.
For example, if you want to buy a home but have questions about the contract, how much you owe in closing fees, or if you must pay back taxes on the property, you may want to hire a lawyer who devotes much or all of his or her practice to assisting home buyers. Alternatively, if you are a business owner and have a complaint against the company that rents space next to your building, you may want to hire a real estate attorney who specializes in commercial real estate law.
Of course, it should go without saying that you do not want to hire an attorney who practices in other legal specialties to represent you in your real estate case. A bankruptcy attorney, for example, may only know the basics of real estate law and be of no use to you once you get to court. You should hire a lawyer who has devoted his or her career to representing clients who have legitimate commercial or residential real estate concerns.
Take Time to Research First
When it comes to hiring a real estate lawyer best suited to take your case, you and you alone bear the sole responsibility of making the soundest decision. You cannot logically blame anyone for your own lack for foresight if you fail to research your real estate attorney options before putting one on a retainer.
With that, you should devote at least a few days to looking at all of your attorney options in your area. Start by finding out what real estate lawyers practice in your city first. If you plan to file your case in your city or county, you want a lawyer who is familiar with local laws and also the judges and prosecutors would may also have a hand in your case.
A local attorney will also know all of the legal resources available to you as a client. These resources can range from what mediator to request if you want to settle out of the courtroom to what courier services are the fastest and most affordable.
An out-of-town or out-of-state attorney will not have this inside knowledge of how to make your case as convenient and successful as possible to pursue and win. Before you start considering any lawyer at all to hire, you should first look to those who are closest to where you actually live and work.
However, if you must look beyond your immediate area and consider out-of-town representation, you should look for real estate attorneys who practice and are licensed in the state in which you live and work. This qualification can be particularly important if you live close to the border of a neighboring state and have the option of hiring a lawyer on either side of the state's boundary.
For example, if you are interested in hiring a real estate lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri but plan to file in Kansas City, Kansas, you want to ensure that the lawyer can practice inside the state of Kansas. If he or she is only licensed in Missouri, you may have to consider looking for and hiring another attorney.
You can avoid this kind of scenario and simplify your search for a good real estate lawyer by going online. The Internet has scores of websites devoted to categorizing and reviewing attorneys across the U.S. including the city and state in which you live and work.
You should read the reviews of other clients and take into consideration what they had to say about their own experiences with the local attorneys. Based on their reviews, you can draft a list of possible attorney contenders that you want to get into contact and set up meetings with before you decide which one to hire.
Finally, if you do not trust your own judgment or cannot decide what attorney to hire, you should ask your friends, family members, and coworkers for their input. Chances are that someone you know has at least minimal experience with a real estate attorney in your city.
Set Up and Go to Initial Consultations
After you narrow down your search for the best real estate attorney to hire, you should commit to going to the initial consultations with each one. In fact, you may find it easy to choose what attorney to hire if you start by considering those who actually do offer a free first meeting with potential clients.
This initial meeting should be face-to-face in his or her office and last at least an hour. The session should be used as an opportunity for you both to get formally acquainted with each other as well as for you to spell out the basics of your real estate case.
The potential lawyer can learn what kind of case you need to file and what information could influence how it is played out in the courtroom. This individual can also determine if he or she has the legal expertise to take the case or if you may need to be referred to an attorney with more skill and experience.
It is important that you listen to the attorney as he or she talks about how the case may be built and pursued in or out of the courtroom. You should take note of specific details like how long it will take to go through the court system, whether or not it can be settled without a trial, and what your chances are of winning.
You should also use the meeting as an opportunity to find out more about the attorney. For example, you would not be out of line to ask from what law school he or she graduated as well as what the attorney's win record is in court.
You want to know that the time, money, and effort you invest in the attorney and in the case will give you the dividends you want. You do not want to waste your investment on an attorney who cannot give you the best chances of winning or settling the case in your favor.
You also would not be out of line to ask what kind of disciplinary record if any the lawyer may have. A lawyer with a disciplinary record of any kind could spell trouble for you and your case. Infractions that are reported to a lawyer's record include being held in contempt of court and fraud.
If you feel uncomfortable asking for this information, you can request it from the court system in your city or state. The state bar also should have a record of the attorney's reported infractions.
Finally, the initial consultation should give you a better idea if you can partner with the attorney and work confidently with him or her for the duration of the case. Likewise, the attorney can determine if he or she can competently take you on as a client and satisfy the goals that you have in mind.
The initial meeting does not have to result in you putting the lawyer on retainer. Instead, it should serve as an informative session to lay the groundwork for a possible partnership between the lawyer and you.
Be Prepared to Ask Questions
During the initial meeting with the attorney, you also should be given the chance to ask as many questions as needed for you to feel comfortable with your potential legal representation. You have to know with 100 percent confidence that you can trust the lawyer to take on your case and advocate for your best interests inside and outside of the courtroom.
As such, you should prepare that list of questions well before you actually enter the lawyer's office to meet him or her for the first time. Some of the questions that you may want to ask include:
- How long have you practiced real estate law?
- How many cases have you won versus how many have you lost?
- From what law school did you graduate and when?
- How much time will you personally devote to building and working my case?
- How much of the case will be handled by your paralegals or assistants?
- Can I trust you to return my phone calls or emails if I try to contact you?
- How familiar are you with the local, county, state, and federal real estate laws?
Based on the answers to these questions, you can decide if the attorney can competently take you on as a client and be trusted to head your case. You may feel uncomfortable at first asking such questions simply or fear that you will offend this person.
However, attorneys expect their clients to do their proper research and get their questions out in the open before the case begins rather than after the legal proceedings get underway.
If anything, you may impress the lawyer by showing up to the meeting with a list of questions in hand. Your preparedness may demonstrate that you are ready to be an active partner in the proceedings and that you are more than capable of assisting in your case.
Discover the Attorney's Pricing and Payment Policies
Compared to other legal specialties, real estate law can be more complex and require a lot more paperwork. Because of the amount of work that goes into building and presenting a case in court, you could face pricing that might fall short of the cash you have saved right now.
Rather than risk interrupting or withdrawing your case once it is filed, you should find out now how much the entire process might cost you. Your lawyer should provide you with a thorough list of his or her retainer fee as well as extra expenses like filing fees and courier services.
Even if you are provided with the fee schedule, you should keep in mind that the prices can fluctuate depending on how your case plays out in or out of court. For example, if the judge needs more paperwork or if the court clerk needs duplicates of records, you will be the one paying for that extra documentation. It will be added onto the money that you already owe.
Your lawyer may also charge you by the hour for the time that he or she works on your case. Real estate cases are time consuming and can take months or years to be decided or settled.
You will face paying for all of the time that the attorney spends gathering evidence, filing paperwork, going to court, and taking care of other tasks on your behalf. You must prepare yourself and your budget now if you believe that your matter could become time consuming and expensive.
Your preparation could mean saving up the money to file your case and hire a lawyer. It also could mean discussing payment options with the lawyer before your case begins.
If you are on a limited budget but have some assets like a tax refund that could be liquidated to pay your legal fees, you may be required to sign a lien contract giving the attorney access to that money. If any money remains out of the refund after your legal fees are paid, it will be released back to you.
Alternatively, you and your lawyer may discuss whether or not to pursue court costs and legal fees from the other party involved in the case. For example, if you are suing a contractor for construction damages or defects, you may consider asking for monetary compensation not only for the damage or defects to your home but also to cover your own legal costs.
Many lawyers will agree to wait to collect on legal fees until a lawsuit is decided or settled. After the case is over and you receive your compensation, you may be required to settle your account before you can access the rest of your money.
However, if you are suing another party, you should still take measures to cover your costs in case you do not win. A few lawyers may promise not to collect any compensation if their clients do not win. However, most expect clients to pay for the retainer fee as well as other legal basics like court costs.
In these instances, you may consider taking out a bank loan to pay your lawyer and to file your case. You also could use a credit card to cover your expenses.
If you do not have a credit card and cannot get a bank loan, you may discuss other payment options like an installment agreement. This type of setup may allow you to make monthly payments to the lawyer until your expenses are paid in full.
Trust Your Own Judgment
Finally, when it comes to looking for and hiring a skilled and competent real estate attorney, you should trust your own good judgment. Because you will be the person working with the attorney, you need to listen to what your own gut instinct is telling you.
It is important that you do not downplay your concerns or talk yourself into hiring someone that you fear that you cannot trust. You should tell yourself that you are being overly dramatic or anxious if the lawyer exhibits behavior that gives you pause.
Some of the warning signs that you should trust yourself to identify include:
- not being forthcoming with information about your case
- adding money onto your expenses without explanation
- not returning communications like phone calls or emails
- showing up late to meeting or court dates
If your attorney acts in these ways or others that you find shady, you should trust your own judgment by firing the lawyer and retaining another one for your real estate legal case.
Of course, as mentioned the best way to find an attorney whom you can trust involves taking the time to do some online research, asking friends and family members for their input, and even contacting the state bar for a recommendation. The state bar keeps a list of practicing attorneys in your city and state who specialize in real estate law.
This referral service is typically free and can be used anytime during normal business hours. The state bar's input combined with your own gut instinct can lead you to a lawyer who is more than capable of representing you in your real estate legal matter.
Real estate law differs from other legal specialties in several key ways. Because of how complex and time consuming your real estate case can be, you need a lawyer who is well-versed in this aspect of law and also has the experience to argue or settle your matter to your advantage.
Rather than entrust your case to just anyone, you should find a real estate attorney who knows the laws in your city and state and has a good track record in and out of court. You can choose the best legal representation and partner with the best real estate lawyer by knowing what measures to use in your search.
Payment Options for Hiring a Real Estate Attorney
Hiring an attorney for any legal matter can be expensive. Despite charging fees that you might initially think to be exorbitant, most lawyers actually want to make their services as affordable and easy to access as possible. Rather than delay hiring an real estate attorney or avoid retaining one at all, you can pursue your case and spare your budget by learning about common payment and pricing practices offered by many real estate lawyers.
Most real estate lawyers realize that everyday working clients cannot afford to pay their legal expenses upfront. They might be able to afford the retainer fee, which can cost upwards of $200 to $300 for simple cases. However, they cannot pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out-of-pocket that might come due once the case is settled or decided.
To help you avoid going into debt, your real estate lawyer may offer you a payment plan. This plan would allow you to make payments every month on your bill until your account with the lawyer is settled in full. As long as you pay the retainer fee, you can still file your case and make payments on the money that you owe to the law firm or attorney.
Bank Loan or Credit Card
If you have the financial means and the credit score, you may take out a bank loan to cover your legal expenses. Before you apply for the loan, you should find out how much the lawyer charges for the retainer as well as extras like court filing fees. Once you know a roundabout amount that you might owe, you can apply for the bank loan to cover your costs.
You also may be allowed to use a credit card to pay for your legal expenses. Many real estate attorneys allow clients to use credit cards to either make payments or pay their costs outright. You can then pay off your credit card while your case is being pursued in court.
Paying for a real estate lawyer does not have to take a toll on your budget. You actually have several payment options available to you when it comes to hiring a good lawyer and filing your case now. You can choose the best payment and pricing option for your finances by learning what methods your local real estate attorneys offer to clients like you.
The Importance of Retaining an Experienced Real Estate Attorney
Real estate laws in your state can change frequently and without warning. Just when you become familiar with one set of laws about buying or selling a home, leasing a building, or filing a complaint about your neighbors, you may have to learn a new set of mandates that can be unclear and confusing at best. Rather than take your chances in court, you can pursue your real estate case better by hiring an experienced real estate attorney to represent you.
Knowledge of the Law
The primary reason you should hire an experienced and well-trained real estate lawyer revolves around the fact that he or she will know the laws in your city, county, state, and also at the federal level. Even if you have a broad understanding of these regulations, you may not know about small nuances or details that could put you at risk of breaking the law or incurring an expensive court fine.
Instead of spending hours doing your own research on these laws, you can hire an attorney who practices real estate law. Your legal representative will know which of these mandates apply to your case and what legal loopholes might be available to help you settle or win the case faster.
Your real estate attorney can also be a powerful ally to have by your side in and out of court. Whether you are the one bringing action against another party or you are on the one being sued in court, you need to know that you have someone who is confident, ready, and more than capable of arguing your side before the judge or jury.
An experienced attorney will protect you from being taken advantage of and facing unfair consequences. He or she will also shield you from false accusations from the other party. You also may be spared a time consuming and expensive trial by hiring an attorney who can settle the case out of court in your own best interests.
The legal system today permits everyone to represent themselves in court and in certain legal disputes. However, the laws surrounding property and real estate are always changing. When you want to spare yourself the time, trouble, and risk that come with representing yourself, you can get the results you want with your real estate case by hiring an experienced real estate attorney to help you.
Hiring a Real Estate Attorney You Can Trust
The success of your real estate case depends greatly on how well you can trust your attorney. You need to know that your lawyer will listen to you and act accordingly to protect your best interests.
However, you understandably may find it difficult to trust someone whom you may have just met during the initial free consultation. You can get the peace of mind you need as a client and look forward to having your case resolved to your satisfaction by knowing how to build trust in your real estate attorney.
Look at the Lawyer's Discipline Record
During the initial consultation, you can get a good idea of what kind of a person the lawyer is by asking questions and listening to him or her speak with you. However, you may want to confirm your thoughts about the lawyer by checking out his or her disciplinary record with the local court system.
You have the right to ask for proof the lawyer's disciplinary record and find out if he or she has been censured for offenses like contempt of court or fraud. If the attorney has a clean record, you may decide to put him or her on retainer. If you find worrisome infractions, you may bypass this attorney and continue to look for another real estate lawyer to represent you.
Look Out for Suspicious Behavior
Even if the lawyer's disciplinary record is clean, that does not mean that he or she is on the proverbial up-and-up with clients. It may simply be a matter of the attorney not yet being caught red-handed.
In this instance, you must look out for your own best interests. You should be on the lookout for any behavior that gives you pause or causes you to suspect that your lawyer may be trying to hide something from you. These warning signs include:
- charging more money without providing explanation or giving receipts
- not returning your phone calls or emails
- not showing up to court dates or meetings
- denying information that he or she told you in previous meetings
These behaviors and others that alarm you could tell you it is time to choose another real estate lawyer.
You need to be able to trust your real estate attorney. You can establish that trust and anticipate a good ending to your case by knowing what warning signs to look for throughout your case.
Selecting an Involved and Available Real Estate Lawyer
There is no denying that lawyers in all legal specialties today keep busy schedules. They fill every minute of their work day and sometimes much of their weekends with tasks that revolve around serving their clients.
Even so, you want to know that the real estate lawyer you hire to take your case will devote the appropriate amount of time to you and listen to concerns that you have. You can get the legal results you want by realizing the advantages of retaining an involved and readily available real estate attorney.
Commitment to the Case
Most lawyers today have several paralegals and assistants working for them. These professional sidekicks perform important duties and are crucial to building a case that will stand up in court.
However, they should not be doing the bulk of the work while giving the credit to the lawyer. Your lawyer should be involved in your case and know its finer details so he or she can make an assertive and knowledgeable argument on your behalf in court.
Before you retain a real estate attorney, you should ask him or her about his or her level of involvement in your case and how much of it will be delegated to the paralegals and assistants. If the attorney offers anything less than a full commitment to your case, you may look elsewhere for better real estate legal representation.
You also want to hire an attorney who is available to you. It is true that lawyers are busy and that much of their days are spent going to court, answering correspondence, and handling other important tasks. Still, you want to know that your real estate lawyer will take a few minutes to return your phone call or email within 24 hours.
If you find that your lawyer is slow to answer you or even delays meeting with you when requested, you may consider firing this one and choosing another. Prompt responses to phone calls, emails, and other forms of communication show that your lawyer takes your concerns seriously and is doing his or her best to work for you.
Your real estate legal case requires a lawyer who is committed to your best interests. You can find an attorney with whom you can feel confident by choosing one who will work closely on your case and make an effort to return your communications.