Legal Tip for Home Inspectors: How to Choose the Right Lawyer

 

by Nick Gromicko, InterNACHI®, Founder, InterNACHI® Legal Team, and Kate Tarasenko

 

As a home inspector, there will be times when you’ll need legal counsel.  You may need advice on forming a business, want help with a contract, or require assistance in defending yourself against a lawsuit.  Here are some tips for how to choose the best lawyer for your situation.

Tips for Choosing an Attorney

1. Take your time.

When choosing a lawyer, take your time to find the best one – before you actually need one.  If a client sues you, your instinct will be to find a lawyer as soon as possible because you just want the problem to go away.  Guard against the tendency to choose the first lawyer who answers the phone.  The best lawyer for you may not be able to take your call right away.  Talk with at least three attorneys before you decide on which one to hire.

2. Decide what kind of lawyer you need.

The law is so complex that it’s impossible for one lawyer to know everything.  Most of them specialize, to some extent.  Decide on the type of lawyer you need.  An attorney who’s competent in small business issues may not be the best choice to defend you in a lawsuit.

3. Identify a few potential candidates.

Once you determine the type of lawyer you need, ask people you trust whether they know any lawyers they can recommend.  You may also ask fellow home inspectors for referrals.

Also, consult state and local bar associations, which often have lawyer referral programs.

4. Assess their qualifications.

Once you identify a short list of potential candidates, find out everything you can about them.  Most lawyers have websites.  Study them.  Does the website list the lawyer’s areas of practice?  Does it tell you how many years he or she has been in practice?  Does it provide the lawyer’s professional biography? 

You may also be able to find online reviews through Google or sites such as www.avvo.com.  Read any reviews you can find written by the lawyers’ previous clients. 

Lastly, every state regulates lawyers and maintains records of complaints filed against them.  In some states, this may be a function of the bar association, but in other states, this task falls under the purview of the state supreme court.  Check the public records to determine whether the lawyer you’re considering hiring has been disciplined for misconduct.

5. Interview your top choices.

Call each one and explain what you need.  If they can’t help you, ask if he or she can recommend someone else.  If you and the lawyer decide to meet in person, make sure you are clear on whether you’ll be charged for that meeting.  Contrary to popular myth, most lawyers do not offer free consultations; the ones most likely to do that are personal injury lawyers who charge on a contingency basis.  Before you meet, ask what you should bring to the meeting, such as any relevant documents.  Organize them in a way that will enable the lawyer to quickly understand what your needs are, especially if you’re being sued.

6. Fee Agreements

Once you decide to hire a lawyer, he or she will probably ask you to sign a fee agreement, which most states require of attorneys. Be sure to read the agreement thoroughly and ask questions, if necessary, before you sign it.

How to Help Your Lawyer

Lawyers lead stressful lives.  They have multiple clients and are often under several deadlines imposed by different judges.  Time is precious to them, and they don’t like clients who consume their time without a good reason.  Here are some tips on how you can help your lawyer serve you best and keep your costs down.

  • Be patient.  Think of lawyers as air traffic controllers.  You are just one of many aircraft they must keep track of.  So, don’t be upset if your attorney is not immediately available to talk to you.

  • Use email rather than phone.  This allows the lawyer to respond when it’s convenient for him or her to do so, and email will maintain a paper trail of correspondence and to-do’s.  It’s also less likely the lawyer will charge you to respond to a brief email.

  • Preserve all relevant documents.  Do not discard any documents related to your case, whether hard-copy or online, regardless of what it is.  In matters of litigation, the court can penalize you for destroying or failing to disclose relevant documents.  You’re not in the best position to determine what’s relevant, so keep everything.

  • If you’re being sued, don’t talk to the opposing parties without your lawyer’s knowledge.  It may be tempting to respond to something they say that’s negative, but that’s exactly the time you shouldn’t.  Keep your lawyer apprised of any contact you receive from the person who’s suing you or their attorney.

  • Be honest with your lawyer.  He or she can’t effectively defend you if you aren’t completely upfront with them.  And the attorney-client privilege protects what you tell your lawyer. 

  • Be careful of what you post on social media. Your adversary or his/her lawyer may be watching.  Even if they’re not, they can subpoena social media records.  And anything published publicly is fair game.  So, if you’re being sued or are in the middle of a dispute with a former client, follow your attorney’s lead and keep such matters private and off social media unless you’re advised otherwise.

  • Monitor your reputation online.  While you may purchase the services of a reputation-monitoring company to police online mentions of your home inspection company, it’s best to set a Google Alert to let you know when your or your company’s name pops up.  This is your responsibility, rather than your attorney’s.

    If you’ve been disparaged by a former client – regardless of the reason – don’t let it stand unanswered.  Your livelihood is at stake.  Especially if your former client has a legitimate beef with you, do what you can to mitigate it by first capturing an image of the online post, comment or review.  If it’s a matter you can easily resolve directly, do so to preserve goodwill.  If you’ve been unfairly attacked, you can ask your former client and the website they posted on to remove the negative comments or review on threat of legal action.  Notify your attorney of the issue.  If your request is ignored, you or your attorney can send a cease-and-desist letter

    it’s important to be pro-active in maintaining a positive professional image, so make monitoring your online reputation a regular part of business management.
 
Attorney Joe Denneler of EliteMGA weighs in with his recommendations:
 


If you’re not certain what kind of lawyer you need, or if you have any legal questions about your home inspection business, contact the InterNACHI® Legal Team at legal@internachi.org.  

 

  InspectorSeek.com

 
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