How do I choose my Elder Law Attorney?

While there is certainly no shortage of attorneys (in general), it may not be so simple to find the right elder law attorney for your personal needs.  Not all firms or attorneys are alike.  Make sure to shop around for the firm that best fits your personality—there is never any reason to tolerate an attorney who does not provide prompt, personalized, and dedicated service that meets your needs.

It is important that you choose an attorney with whom you are comfortable on a personal basis.  Especially when choosing an elder law attorney, you should consider the likelihood that you are entering into a lifelong relationship, and you should feel a personal connection with the individual you select. 

Although not an exhaustive list, here are some of the things you should consider and research when choosing an estate planning and elder law attorney you can depend upon for life:

  • Don’t Tolerate Poor Service!  Many people don’t realize that there are a number of elder law attorneys serving the Cape Fear region.  From our experience with many new clients, too many were drawn in by a clever law firm “sales-pitch;” however, once they paid the firm, they received poor, impersonal services.   Dismayed by the lack of service provided, many of our new clients search us out and are shocked and relieved to find out they may switch to our more personal services and still receive a great outcome.  Never let a law firm try to convince you that you are contractually “stuck” with them—you are always entitled to move to a new law firm and receive a refund of all legal fees which have not been earned.
  • Always look beneath the surface of a law firm to see if they are sincerely committed to serving your needs.  Some attorneys rely on flashy advertising, or seminars in hotels and motels, rather than focusing on client satisfaction and service.   Generally, many of the more personable and competent attorneys may not even advertise (or do so on a very limited basis).
  • While any law firm may hold itself out as handling elder law issues, not every firm has attorneys who focus the majority of their practice on elder law issues relevant to your situation.  The legal issues surrounding the well-being of the elderly are numerous.  Don’t forget to ask any law firm you’re interviewing which particular areas of elder law they are most familiar.
  • Ask your friends, colleagues and other professionals.  Word of mouth and positive feedback are among the best ways to find an attorney, especially one who is likely to have the requisite skills.  Don’t be afraid to ask someone who has gone through this process with their own loved one–they can be very helpful to you in terms of what you should be considering.  If you don’t know anyone who has been through this process, contact other professionals, such as non-elder law attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, or others serving the aging community and ask for their suggestions.
  • Search for the attorney and the law firm on the internet.  While you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, it can still be a source of useful information.  If an elder law attorney has a law firm website, explore the website to see how much of the information provided is truly educational versus being tilted toward marketing (with little educational content).  Also, if possible, identify the professional organizations and associations to which the attorney belongs in order to determine whether the attorney truly does focus his or her practice on estate planning and elder law.
  • Whenever choosing any attorney, it is always a good idea to check their background for professional misconduct.  The North Carolina State Bar allows you to search any attorney’s discipline records (if any) at the following link: http://www.ncbar.gov/discipline/disorders.asp.  Other databases, such as http://www.AVVO.com, can provide valuable feedback, information, and ratings specific to the legal field.

Although selecting an attorney for such personal matters as estate planning and elder law is no easy task, if you prepare ahead of time and find the right attorney for you and your family, you should feel comfortable knowing that the attorney you choose is someone you can depend upon for life.

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