There comes a time when a family must consult a lawyer about elder law issues. Some people are lucky enough to have a friend or co-worker who has had a positive experience and can recommend and attorney in the elder law field. Often, however, that is not the case, and the family faces the daunting task of souring the Yellow Pages and the internet for an appropriate person.
We all know that the Yellow Pages contain advertising. Lawyers buy ads and hope the amount of business the ads bring in will be worth the monthly cost. Virtually all third party websites that provide information about elder law lawyers are the same. Lawyers pay to have their names listed. If you go to the AARP web site looking for an attorney you will find a list of attorney's who have paid to be on the list. In the case of the AARP, it costs a lot. The same applies to ElderLaw Answers, Oregon Elder Law Attorneys, NOLO Press, and many many more. If there is a list of lawyers on the web, odds are that the lawyers paid to get on it.
Most of the web sites listing lawyers shy away from rating them. That is not the case with Avvo. Avvo lists all lawyers and lets us claim our listing and fill in the blanks about our experience and specialties. It also gives lawyers a ranking based upon some mathematical formula. Due to my colorful history with the Oregon State Bar--a history told here and here and probably lots of other places--I am ranked at the bottom with the warning "extreme caution." Who knows, Avvo may be right--after all they have math on their side. On the same page as my abysmal ranking is an ad for another lawyer in my neighborhood. He gets his picture on my page because he paid for an upgrade. At the end of the day, it is still all about advertising.
You might look for a lawyer who belongs to the appropriate organizations. Many of us elder law lawyers belong to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. I belong to NAELA. I read the newsletters and the journals they send me. I wouldn't have to do those things to belong. I could just send in the money once a year and the organization would be quite happy take it and list me as a member. I belong to the Guardian/Conservator Association of Oregon, the Oregon Gerontological Association, the Elder Law Section of the Oregon State Bar and the East County Alano Club. Does belonging to these organizations make me a better elder law lawyer? Probably. But not that much better. What counts is what we do at work, not what we do in our spare time.
Here is my theory. Find some elder law lawyers in your neighborhood and look at their web pages. Get a feel for them. Some folks like a firm--it gives them a sense of security to see several lawyers and a lot of staff. Other people are more at home with a sole practitioner or a couple of partners. These folks like the intimacy of the small practice. Then meet with the lawyer and see if you like him or her. There are a million lawyers; there is no excuse for having one you don't like. Talk about your problem and see if you are comfortable with both the legal plan the lawyer devises and the cost. If it doesn't feel right, get out and try somebody else.
If you follow my plan, chances are you will be okay. Law ain't rocket science. Most lawyers are going to look at your case and come up with the same answer. People win cases because they have good cases, not because they have good lawyers. You don't want a lawyer who can't find the court house, but in the elder law world, you probably don't need Clarence Darrow either.