Find A Consumer Lawyer

Reader Jeff wants help finding a lawyer:

Ben,

I have been a long term lurker of The Consumerist. I have searched up and down Google looking for a Consumer Protection Lawyer. I was wondering if you could post on The Consumerist some tips on finding a good lawyer. Any help would be appreciated.

Here’s our advice for Jeff:

Your first stop should be NACA, the National Association Of Consumer Advocates. They have a database of lawyers who specialize in consumer issues.

Another place to check out is NCLC.org, the National Consumer Law Center.

You can also try findlegalhelp.org. Select your state and scroll down to your county to get the number for your county bar association. Call them up, tell them a bit about your case and what you’re looking for, and they can refer you to some lawyers. “Most have a referral program, most with specialty listings, and generally nobody knows the local lawyers better than the county bar secretary,” wrote commenter Eyebrows McGee when we posted about this question before.

I understand how Google frustrated you. There’s lots of spam and scam sites and it’s hard to know what to trust. But the two sites I listed above are on the level and should be able to help you with your problem.

Comments

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  1. downwithmonstercable says:

    I’ve never heard of a consumer protection lawyer, can someone fill me in on what they do?

    • charodon says:

      @downwithmonstercable: There’s a lot of specialized law out there designed to protect consumers: state unfair trade practices statutes, debt collection law, federal lending laws, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, telemarketing rules, cooling off periods, lemon laws, laws governing warranties, etc. Consumer protection lawyers specialize in that area.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Avoid larger firms. If you are a small suit or a one time client your case is going to be pushed off onto a first year associate. He won’t care about your case because there is little or no chance of repeat business and as a result everything done for you will be generally shoddy.

  3. chgoeditor says:

    The downside of lawyer referral services is that they don’t really differentiate between good and bad lawyers. In most instances, lawyers simply have to be a member of the non-profit group that’s doing the referring in order to have their name given out. That means you might be referred to a lawyer who just graduated from school a year or two ago, or you might be referred to someone who’s a seasoned professional. It’s tough to tell.

    I actually work in the legal profession, so here’s my advice.

    Do you personally know any lawyers (even if they practice in a different area)? Ask them if they know anyone who can help you. They might be familiar with the lawyers in your area who practice consumer protection law, and can point you toward the best person. (If you are friends with a non-lawyer who regularly works with attorneys, you might ask them if they can offer a personal recommendation.)

    I’d also recommend that you look in local newspapers and magazines. Do searches for articles about lawyers who have won suits on behalf of consumers. Those are the lawyers you want to represent you, because they’re winning cases.

    Once you’ve pulled together a list of possible attorneys, go to a site like Lawyers.com, which is a directory of legal professionals. On Lawyers.com you can read more about a specific lawyer’s background. (Where did the lawyer go to school? How long have they been in practice? Have they won awards or big cases?)

    Here’s a link to Lawyers.com’s listing of consumer fraud attorneys:
    [www.lawyers.com]

    Here’s a link to Lawyers.com’s listing of products liability lawyers:
    [www.lawyers.com]

    Once you have a couple potential lawyers identified, call them and ask whether offer a free initial consultation. The lawyers who know consumer protection/consumer fraud/products liability will be able to give you a quick assessment of your case. Then, pick the lawyer with whom you’re most comfortable, and who seemed to give you a realistic assessment of your case.

  4. chgoeditor says:

    I’d add: Referral services usually have a requirement that they can’t discriminate between lawyers who are part of their referral service. So if you call and ask for a consumer protection attorney in New York, they won’t give you the best attorney, they give you the attorney whose name is at the top of the referral list. Once they give you that person’s name, they move to the bottom of the list.

    Just imagine if you were an attorney and found that the local bar association was recommending your competitor 90% of the time and you only 10% of the time. You wouldn’t be very happy, would you? That’s exactly why referral services can’t show any favoritism toward an individual attorney.

  5. probonogeek says:

    It’s worth noting that in the case of “consumer protection” law, you’re going to find a hard time actually finding a lawyer because most consumer protection suits cannot be brought by a private party. The vast majority of laws are written to be enforced exclusively by your State’s Attorney General.

    You can always sue under tort law, but it’s a lot harder to stick those cases than if the AG takes up the case under consumer protection laws. So you may have better luck talking with your State AG consumer protection division.

    • nuttish says:

      @probonogeek: This is not correct. The truth is the opposite — most consumer protection statutes provide a private right of action with meaningful remedies, including having the other side pay your attorney’s fee if you prevail or they wish to settle.

  6. BattistaAgasthenes says:

    As to referral services: when local bar associations run these services, at least in the major metropolitan area where i live, it means the person being referred gets a 30 minute flat fee consultation. The referrals do go by subject matter so you would not find yourself getting a family law consultation with a small business attorney. I agree with the advice to ask attorneys you know for a referral too but honestly I am an attorney and I do not know the quality of work done by a lot of my professional acquaintances so I am not sure it will yield a better referral.

    I know this question is about seeking a personal attorney, but depending upon the nature of the problem, you should keep in mind that local district attorney offices run consumer fraud units and that local advocacy organizations like Consumers Union may have tips on resources for advocating on your own behalf. They might also be interested in your case. They have attorneys on their board of directors too and that might serve as a starting point for seeking legal representation.

  7. IamNotToddDavis says:

    I always recommend to people Bud Hibbs in Texas. If he can’t help you he usually knows who will be able to help you and how to contact them.

    [www.budhibbs.com]

  8. mythago says:

    I am a lawyer as well and agree with the advice above. Jeff, when you call your local bar association, make sure you get 2-3 references, not just one. Then look up these lawyers online. Lawyers must be admitted to practice in your state, usually through a state bar association, sometimes through the state supreme court only.

    You want to see if your lawyer has any history of disciplinary action and what their online presence is. A slick website means nothing, but if they have a website proclaiming nothing but how they are bulldogs and will get you lots and lots of money, run away.

    When you talk to the lawyer, you should absolutely be comfortable having that person represent you. If they don’t answer your questions, if they treat you like an idiot, if they give you an unrealistic assessment of your case or make any guarantees about winning–RUN.

  9. Pylon83 says:

    Check out http://www.martindale.com, they keep a searchable list of attorneys based on practice area and geography. They do use a rating system, with AV being the highest possible.

    • TangDrinker says:

      @Pylon83: A lot of that rating also has to do with how much you pay Martindale to be in it, though, so take it with a grain of salt if you can’t find your attorney in it.

      • harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law says:

        @TangDrinker: Not true. The Martindale rating system is NOT based on payment. It is based on experience level, so many small and/or younger lawyers won’t show up.

  10. Mike Dobrejcak says:

    Find out who your local general practice non-profit legal services law firm is. They may or may not handle consumer law and you may or may not be eligible for service. Even if they don’t do consumer law or you aren’t eligible, they will know who the best consumer lawyers are in your area, and they will gladly identify them for you.

    Also, check out the National Consumer Law Center. They are the national authority on consumer law. Their links of interest page is top-notch:
    [www.nclc.org]

    NCLC operates a number of topical websites. Their student loans website is particularly good: [www.studentloanborrowerassistance.org]

    • Corbin123 says:

      @Mike Dobrejcak:

      You can also try a local law school’s clinical services. My law school actually has it’s own consumer protection clinic, and they will handle cases if you meet certain income requirements. While your cases will be handled and researched by students, they will probably be very motivated and since they are at a law school they will have the very best resources to use. On top of that, most clinics will be run by a distinguished professor and/or a prominent local attorney (ours is run by the chair of a large law firm downtown) so they will be able to give expert advice to the students if they can’t figure out what to do with your case.

  11. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    “I am a lawyer as well and agree with the advice above. Jeff, when you call your local bar association, make sure you get 2-3 references, not just one.”

    Yes, exactly.

    It also depends how big your local bar is. You could probably run through all the lawyers who do any consumer protection in my county in 5 referrals. :)

  12. Anonymous says:

    National Consumer Law Center: http://www.nclc.org

    They have a billion of resources and I’ve actually just called up their main office and asked them who they recommend. There are a major player in consumer law (but a non-profit center) who publishes treatises, consumer materials, and does laywer CLE stuff, so they know who the great lawyers in the field are. But they aren’t a referral service so you dont run into the problems from above.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I am a National Association of Consumer Advocates member, so I will certainly tout our group. You will find them attuned to your needs, much more so than a yellow page advertiser or a bar assn referral, or even Findlaw, which I find unreliable when I am looking for help in another area.

  14. TacoDave says:

    I work at the State Bar in Oregon. If you live in Oregon, get in touch with me and I’ll help you out.

    I’m useful!

    • Sam Glover says:

      @TacoDave: My wife and I are considering a move to Portland. I don’t see many consumer rights lawyers in the NACA lawyer database. What do you know about the consumer lawyers in Oregon? (You can contact me directly using my website, consumerlawyer.mn.)

  15. f0nd004u says:

    It seems like Consumerist has a lot of lawyers reading. Perhaps the blog could itself compile a list of lawyers.

    • nuttish says:

      @f0nd004u: Unnecessary. If you want a consumer lawyer who has committed himself/herself to consumer work and not taking cases contrary to the interests of consumer, you should look at members of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. No bar referral service is going to get you so close to highly experienced consumer lawyers. Look at naca.net.

  16. Sam Glover says:

    For a consumer lawyer, use the NACA lawyer database Ben linked. Your local bar association is probably useless for finding a consumer rights lawyer.

  17. dhmosquito says:

    Thanks to all you responding lawyers. It’s advice like this that I find useful at this website. Can I assume, should someone need criminal or civil legal help, that a similar procedure can be followed? cheers

    • chgoeditor says:

      @dhmosquito: Absolutely. The same principles apply regardless of the type of lawyers you’re looking for.

      1. Ask people who know and have worked with lawyers, and get their personal recommendations.
      2. Check their credentials, education and background.
      3. Talk to several lawyers.
      4. Hire the lawyer with whom you’re most comfortable, who gives you a realistic assessment of your case, and who you can afford.

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @chgoeditor: “who you can afford.”

        And have a realistic idea of what “afford” means. Clients often don’t. I have a friend right now who’s fighting a wrongful termination case, and his idea of what he can afford is LESS THAN HALF the lowest going hourly rate I know of locally. I told him to go ahead and hire the local bulldog (at $500/hour) that his union recommended, and he can’t wrap his head around KEEPING HIS SIX-FIGURE JOB being worth $500/hour. (And this is a situation where if he loses, he is going to have an extremely difficult time finding another job.)

        Clients all the time tell me “I could do that cheaper myself, why do you charge so much?” Well, I can build bookshelves cheaper than my handyman, but they look like ass and they’re crooked. :P It’s ever so slightly maddening.

  18. jdhuck says:

    Stay away from the lawyers that advertise during Springer. Even if they promise to get you your check.

    Those advertisements crack me up.

  19. ARP says:

    Another lawyer chiming in:

    Fees
    1) Contingency- this means if they win the case for you, they get a chunk of the winnings (usually 25-40%) and you don’t have to pay attorney’s fees if they lose. This is a good option if you don’t have much money, but the downside is obvious (you don’t get all your winnings). Note, you might still have to pay some fees (filing costs, etc.) but they won’t be as much. Contingency is not allowed (or even really possible) in criminal cases.

    2) Billable Hours- they charge you by the hour and for expenses. The attorney might ask you for a retainer to start representation. Depending the size of the case/issue, it may be a few thousand dollars. For a simple consumer complaint, it should be less. They’ll bill against that amount until its used up and then start billing you. I would be careful if they ask you for a large retainer (e.g. $5000+). The only reason they should do this is if they think you won’t pay.

    The lawyer should give you a retainer agreement. The retainer agreement should be written in (relatively) plain English about the scope of representation, what their fees are, etc. Be wary if they don’t provide one.

    Ask questions. Ask about his approach to litigation (if that’s needed). Ask how many others are in the firm. Ask about the usual steps in your kind of case.

    • Luckwouldhaveit says:

      @ARP: Just to add a bit to ARP’s explanation – depending on what your state allows for attorney fees, you may be offered a flat-fee agreement. I’ve seen this most with two wildly different sorts of cases – DUI defense and patent applications. Flat fee arrangements are just what they sound like – pay $3,000 for standard first-offense DUI defense. An agreement like this may have a second step, like an additional $2,000 if the case goes to trial. As a postscript (not from personal experience), if you get a DUI, hire a DUI defense attorney.

    • Fait Accompli says:

      @ARP: This leaves out an important iteration of consumer advocacy contingency fee work: fee shifting provisions. Many consumer statutes allow “prevailing plaintiffs” to recover fees directly from the defendant. In this scenario, none of the fees come out of the recovery of the plaintiff. Instead, if the plaintiff wins, his or her attorneys submit their detailed time records to the court and request that the court order the defendant pay the fees. The fee is amount is typically oppose and the court determines whether the bill is reasonable or not (and may pay some, all, or in some instances a multiple of the amount requested).

      Not all consumer statutes have such fee shifting provisions, but many do. Congress and state legislatures recognized that attorneys typically will not be interested in getting 33% from a small pot of damages, so put they put these provisions in statutes such as TILA, FCRA, FDCPA, and many state unfair and deceptive business practice statutes to encourage the protection of the little guy. My firm does almost all class-action, consumer related work (spread across fraud, warranty, securities, and anti-trust matters) and nearly everything we get paid is the result of a fee shifting statute (or by agreement in settlement).

  20. snoop-blog says:

    The real question is: who is this guy wanting to sue and why? That’s what I want to know.

  21. snoop-blog says:

    In another 6 years, I plan on being a consumer protection lawyer. I’m going into business law so there’s always a small chance money will blind me and I will actually end up working for some of these scumbags. But hey, I’ve got to pay student loans back somehow.

  22. nycads says:

    In New York, there’s only one lawyer I know of who actually posts his consumer-friendly philosophy, clear explanations, and even his prices, which are WAY lower than any other lawyer. Very refreshing. [www.aLawyerForTheRestOfUs.com]

  23. consumerlawyer says:

    two more tips:

    Consumer protection law certainly isn’t the most lucrative field for lawyers, so you may have a hard time finding an attorney who practices exclusively in this field. But it’s worth the search.

    Personal recommendations by former clients are usually a strong indicator as to whether or not your case will be handled in an appropriate manner. Give more weight to former client’s opinions than any bar recommendations or website listings.

    Where does the original poster live? There’s certainly enough lawyers on here that can point him in the right direction.

  24. springboks says:

    http://www.findlaw.com is another great legal resource.

  25. Kounji says:

    What I don’t understand is why companies make a big deal out of refusing price matches. Essentially why price matches exist is because a company is willing to take a margin hit rather than have dollars someone is looking to spend go somewhere else. So when I see refusals like this I wonder why individual managers try to reject these so often.

  26. mrwilson says:

    If you have the sort of consumer problem that is shared by a large number of other people, it might be appropriately handled as a class action. So if it could be that sort of case, you may not want to contact a consumer lawyer who typically only handles individual claims, but one who has experience in consumer class actions. (Full disclosure: I am a securities and consumer class action plaintiffs’ lawyer.)

    Fyi, in class actions, plaintiffs’ lawyers get paid out of any settlement that might be reached, and the fees are approved by the judge. (If there is no settlement or judgment in favor of plaintiffs, then the lawyers don’t get paid at all.)

  27. raskolnik says:

    This is helpful for me for a slightly different reason: I’m graduating law school in about 2 months and want to practice consumer law. Thanks!

  28. JammingEcono says:

    As a consumer advocate myself, I can certainly vouch for Ben’s and other commenters’ fanhood of NACA and NCLC. Both great, worthy organizations with tons of good resources,