How to Pick a Lawyer

People sometimes ask: “How do I pick a lawyer?” The starting point is to understand the nature of your legal problem.

Lawyer in the workplace
What is the Exact Nature of My Legal Problem?

The individual with specific learning disabilities (LD) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may require the assistance of a lawyer in connection with problems in areas such as: elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, professional licensing, and employment. Problems may pose legal issues under the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and state laws. Occasionally, criminal law issues may be posed.

Once the problem and the legal issues are identified, the next question is: “Do I understand the process?” How you begin is likely to be dictated by procedures established by the school, licensing board, or employer. If you understand the general nature of the process and its requirements, the next question is: “Are the facts such that I believe I can persuade them (school, employer, licensing board) on my own?” Sometimes the answer is a resounding “yes”. If so, it may not be necessary to retain a lawyer. On the other hand, if you have reason to believe that your claim will be rejected, it may be time to seek the advice of a lawyer.

What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need?

Law school training does not educate lawyers to be specialists. It trains them in legal reasoning and provides them with basic knowledge of many legal areas. As a result, lawyers who have just passed the bar have received a general legal education and may not be expert in any particular legal area. They must acquire an expertise in actual practice. Lawyers develop expertise in specific legal areas. People with LD and/or ADHD may have problems that involve legal issues in a number of different areas, such as: education, employment, litigation, estate planning, and criminal law. In a particular case, it may be necessary to retain a lawyer with expertise in one legal area, such as employment law, and to consult with professionals concerning special considerations relating to LD or ADHD.

Where Can I Find a Lawyer?

There are many ways to locate a suitable lawyer. You may have a friend who has had a similar legal issue or a family lawyer who will be able to refer you to a lawyer with the expertise you need. If not, here are our recommendations:

  • States have bar associations. Sometimes, they may be able to assist you in finding a lawyer with expertise in your problem area.
  • Martindale-Hubbell lists in a directory many practicing lawyers in the United States. Many major law firms are listed. The areas of expertise of the lawyers are identified, together with a rating indicating their level of competence. Martindale may be available at law libraries. Martindale also is online.
  • The Internet is a source of legal information. Lawyers and law firms often have websites that provide information about the lawyers and their areas of expertise.
  • Disability organizations may be able to provide the names of lawyers who have indicated an interest in representing individuals with LD and ADD in specific legal areas.
  • Civil rights and legal defense or advocacy groups sometimes may be able to provide assistance at no cost. There are non profit disability law centers in many states. Examples: Arizona Center for Disability Law, Maryland Disability Law Center, and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF). The National Disability Rights Network has a website that provides information on available resources in the various states. Other groups that may be of interest are: American Civil Liberties Union and Judge David Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Washington, D.C.

How Can I Afford a Lawyer?

Often the first step is an initial consultation with the lawyer you have selected. Some lawyers charge for that, and others do not. It is wise to ask about the cost when you set up the consultation.

To handle a legal matter, some law firms will require payment “up front” of a certain amount to handle a particular matter, such as a mediation. Others may bill you monthly for fees at a specific hourly rate and for expenses incurred. Some lawyers will undertake your case, if it involves a claim for damages, for a contingent fee. Often the fee is a percentage of the recovered damages, if there is a recovery. If there is no recovery, there is no fee, but usually you would be responsible to pay for expenses incurred. In some cases, applicable statutes will permit the recovery of your attorneys’ fees and costs from the other side, if you win. Some law firms will undertake representation for free in some cases. This is called pro bono representation. You are not charged. Do not be reluctant to discuss fees and ask questions of an attorney you are considering retaining. Another alternative is to check with a non profit disability law center in your state to see if you might be able to obtain assistance free of charge.

How Should I Relate to My Lawyer?

Your lawyer is a professional you have retained to perform certain legal services for you. There should be a clear understanding of what services are to be performed and what fee is to be paid. Here are some tips:

  • Ask your lawyer for an “engagement letter” which defines exactly what he/she will do for you and at what cost. Some lawyers will offer an engagement letter without your asking, because this practice is encouraged by many bar associations.
  • Ask the lawyer to estimate the cost to you of providing services, such as: advice, negotiations on your behalf, representation in an administrative proceeding, representation in an alternative disputes resolution process, or formal litigation.
  • Ask what the hourly rates are and which lawyer(s) will be assigned to work on your matter.
  • Inquire as to the experience and qualifications of the lawyer(s) who will work on your matter.
  • If litigation is being considered, ask whether alternative dispute resolution procedures, such as mediation, are appropriate in your case.

When to Litigate?

Litigation is like war. The stress can be enormous. Remember that you are seeking a practical result, such as an education placement for your child, preservation of your job, or monetary damages. The driving force should be to achieve an outcome to which you have a legal right, not to inflict harm on an employer or educational institution because you are angry. Also, remember that there may be other ways of achieving the goals of a good education or rewarding employment. For example, if you believe you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, should you take legal action or look for another job? It is important to consider the pros and cons of these alternatives.

In litigation, as in war, there are times to fight. Generally, you should seriously consider litigation when you and your attorney believe you have a strong legal case, and there is no other way to achieve the desired outcome.

Authors: Peter S. Latham, J.D., and Patricia H. Latham, J.D.

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Feel free to leave a comment below regarding this article. If you have a specific question for LDA, please contact us directly.


  1. Malia Davis says:

    That’s a great point that sometimes bar associations for your state will be able to help you find the right attorney for your needs. We haven’t thought to check our bar association, but we definitely will now that we read this post. My sister is in need of an attorney to help her look over her employment contract to make sure everything is in order, and I’ve been helping her in her search. I’ll talk to her about checking the bar association, and hopefully it will help us find the right attorney that will understand my sister’s needs.

  2. How can. Adults with ADHD, be protected when having to take medication for their disability
    Y while driving, and protected from receiving a DUI, for taking medications as adderal? In Michigan…

  3. Silas Knight says:

    There are some great things to keep in mind when hiring a lawyer here. I didn’t know that lawyer who have just completed the BAR aren’t specialized in any area, so that’s good to know. The best thing to do, I guess, is find a lawyer who has a lot of experience in your needed field.

  4. Bob Lowe says:

    Thanks for the post. These are all great tips. I really appreciate the list of ways to find a lawyer. With most things you can turn to your friends or family for advice on help finding a dentist or a doctor, but finding a lawyer may be a little bit more difficult. I think going to the state bar is a great place to start looking.

  5. Aiman-smith & Marcy says:

    Thanks for recommendations, This legal tips are really great and very helpful.

  6. A lot of people are hesitant about hiring a lawyer because they don’t know if they can afford it or not. You provided a lot of information that I’m sure people would find very helpful. I don’t need a lawyer right now, thankfully, but it’s always good to know. Thank you.

  7. William E. Huggins says:


    I am renewing my Membership, , and I am faxing my Application over to you. In the mean time, I ask that you contact my Legal Assistant , Ms. Kellie T. Barnes (410) 752-7169, who needs a Lawyer, to help help with a Special Education Learning Disability case. Ms. Barnes Email Address is: Email: I ask that you contact me ASAP, as soon as you contact Ms. Barnes, ASAP . I look to your reply.

    Thank you
    William E. Huggins

    • ldaamerica says:

      Thank you for your email and for renewing your membership. Unfortunately, we are unable to directly refer you to an attorney since this site is a national organization. Please contact your local state affiliate and they may be able to provide you resources in your area. Also, you may want to refer your Legal Assistant to many of the articles on the website that provides good information regarding Special Education.

      Best Regards.

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