Q: I am looking for a lawyer and would like some tips on how to find a good one. Do all Illinois lawyers receive the same training?
A: In order to be licensed to practice law in Illinois, a lawyer must receive a law degree from an accredited law school and pass the state bar exam and an ethics exam. Law school is typically a three-year program after undergraduate school.
Once a lawyer passes the bar and is licensed by the Illinois Supreme Court, the lawyer can practice all types of law - from real estate to estates to divorce to contracts to civil and criminal litigation in the courtroom. There really is no limitation as to the areas of practice except patent law.
As a practical matter, in my experience most lawyers fresh out of law school know little about the practical aspects of practicing law and usually learn how to practice law on the job, often working at a law firm with experienced lawyers or reading how-to books in the law library.
If you have a matter that involves significant dollars or important legal issues, the first question you should determine is the attorney's experience in the applicable area of the law. That is not to say that an inexperienced lawyer will not do a good or adequate job, but it is common sense that, as in most occupations, experience matters.
It is also important to find a lawyer you trust because you will want the lawyer to give you objective and unbiased advice. Practicing law is a business as well as a craft, and some lawyers are more interested in your money than your case.
A good way to start a search for a qualified lawyer is to ask a relative, friend, business associate or someone you trust for a recommendation based on their personal experience. Also, if you have a lawyer whom you trust who does not practice in the area in which you need legal representation, ask the lawyer for a recommendation on a lawyer who is familiar with that area of practice.
When you decide to retain a lawyer, make sure that she carries malpractice insurance. Illinois lawyers are not required to carry malpractice insurance, but they are required to report whether they have such coverage.
You can find out whether a lawyer has malpractice insurance at www.iardc.org - the Web site of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, an agency of the state Supreme Court that keeps records for lawyers in Illinois and handles complaints of professional misconduct.
This Web site also can tell you if the lawyer has been disciplined or whether there are any disciplinary actions pending against him. It is a good resource for the public and should be utilized in the process of hiring a lawyer.