When the United States handed down its decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona which struck down state laws prohibiting lawyers from advertising as an unconstitutional interference with free speech, it was widely thought that it would then be easier to find an attorney. This belief was based on the premise that since lawyers were allowed to compete in the same way as other businesses do, it would be easier to meet one’s needs for legal representation and that the costs would go down.
It is true that lawyer advertising has made it easier to find an attorney. However, there is still a problem in finding the right attorney for one’s particular needs. If the selected lawyer is inexperienced, incompetent, or lacks the willingness or ability to communicate effectively with a client, the client will not be satisfied with the lawyer’s service. Furthermore, the consequences for the client could be catastrophic, such as losing a business or being unable to recover for injuries the client sustained at the hands of a liable third party. In order to find the best attorney, one needs more than a list of names, even if these are specialists in the relevant legal area. Clients are best served by asking questions before they decide on an attorney to retain.
Consumer dissatisfaction with lawyers has become a major problem. A survey taken in 1995 by Consumer’s Union revealed that out of 30,000 respondents, one-third were not well satisfied with the quality of their attorneys’ services. The reasons for this dissatisfaction varied, ranging from attorneys failing to keep their clients informed on the progress of their cases, failing to protect clients’ interests, failing to resolve cases in a timely manner, and continually charge unreasonable fees. The reason for this widespread dissatisfaction is linked to the lack of knowledge by consumers on how to find attorneys experienced with the kinds of problems they are facing as well as knowing what questions to ask a lawyer they are considering retaining. The results of a one thousand person survey reported in the Florida Bar Journal revealed that the average time spent in finding a lawyer was two hours or less. Nearly one half of those surveyed said it was hard to find a good lawyer, and over a quarter of them said they did not know how to find a lawyer. It is remarkable that 80 per cent of respondents said they wished there was a source for information on lawyers’ credentials.