A good lawyer is like a good friend – someone who is smart and honest, has your best interests at heart, and is enjoyable to be around. But finding such a lawyer can be an intimidating experience. Should you look online? Ask a friend to suggest someone? And how do you know when you’ve found the lawyer you need? Here are four things to look for when seeking legal counsel:

1) LGBT bona fides – Your first priority should be to find a fellow member of the LGBT community. Working with a lawyer means letting down your guard and entrusting your confidences to a stranger who is also a professional. You will probably feel more comfortable doing this if the professional in question has had life experiences similar to yours.

A gay or lesbian lawyer is also more likely to understand your legal concerns on a personal level. He or she will probably be better informed about the latest changes in the laws affecting LGBT people and will know how to leverage the law to your greatest advantage.

A lawyer outside our community may be fully competent. But someone who has also suffered through the anxieties of bullying, coming out, or fighting for equality will be better equipped to provide the unique skills and understanding you need.

If you must consider a lawyer outside the LGBT community, find out whether they support LGBT causes. Does the lawyer have a track record of advocating on behalf of our community, or do they simply want to market to our demographic? Look for someone who sponsors advocacy organizations like FreeState Justice, Lambda Legal, or the Trevor Project, or who has taken leadership positions on issues that affect LGBT equality.

2) Bedside manner – Next, evaluate the lawyer’s soft skills. Especially in the realm of estate planning or family law, you want an understanding counselor who is attentive, engaging, and warm. Responsiveness and good communication skills are also important. Take note of things like how quickly you get a response to your initial inquiry and whether the lawyer can speak in plain English, rather than “legalese.”

The lawyer should focus on your concerns, rather than touting his or her past successes or discussing only the technical aspects of your matter. Your legal concerns are too important to leave to chance, so make sure they are as important to your lawyer as they are to you.

3) Skills and experience – Beyond finding an LGBT lawyer who is easy to work with, consider how competent the lawyer is likely to be. Find out whether the lawyer’s practice area aligns with your legal needs and how long he or she has been working in that area. For example, if you need to prepare a will or settle an estate, an estates and trusts attorney with more than ten years’ experience will likely do a better job that a general practitioner still cutting his teeth.

Scan the attorney’s online bio for awards and other accolades, for membership in professional organizations, and for leadership in the law. These feathers in the lawyer’s cap won’t guarantee competency, but they will give you a sense of how well regarded the lawyer is by his or her peers. Online reviews can also be helpful, but the best endorsement may be the recommendation of a friend who has worked with the lawyer.

4) Fees and commitment – Some lawyers offer a free consultation and then charge by the hour. Others charge for the initial meeting but then apply the charge toward a flat fee for the work to be done. Ask up front how the lawyer bills and what the total cost is likely to be.

Finally, look for a lawyer who can grow with you – someone who is committed to their area of law and to the community they serve. If you can continue to work together, the good lawyer you find may well become a good friend.

Lee Carpenter is an associate attorney at the law firm of Saul Ewing Anstein & Lehr and can be reached at 410-332-8626 or lee.carpenter@saul.com. Learn more about LGBT estate planning at Mdlgbtestateplanning.com. This article is intended to provide general infor about legal topics , not specific legal advice.

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Lee Carpenter, Esquire
Lee Carpenter, Esquire
Lee Carpenter is an attorney dedicated to serving Maryland’s LGBT+ community. His practice focuses on estate planning and administration, as well as some family law and business matters. He works in the Baltimore office of the law firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr and also teaches Estates & Trusts as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. He has written regularly for Baltimore Out Loud since 2014 and is a frequent lecturer on topics related to same-sex marriage and LGBT law. A Maryland native, he is proud to call Baltimore home and lives in the city with his husband and son.