How to Find an Attorney

Copyright 1998-2004 by Ronald B. Standler

Table of Contents

Directories of Attorneys
U.S. Patent Office
Family Law
My Comments on Advertising by Attorneys
Resources to Avoid

Attorneys in the USA are licensed to practice law only in specific states. Most attorneys are licensed to practice law in only one state, although a few are licensed in two states.

It is a violation of both law and professional ethics to give legal advice to someone who resides in a state where the attorney is not licensed to practice. Furthermore, giving legal advice (even gratuitously) can expose an attorney to charges of malpractice. For these reasons, most attorneys discourage questions from residents of other states, unless the out-of-state resident is seeking legal representation in the attorney's state.

Directories of Attorneys

  1. West, the largest publisher of court opinions and legal treatises in the USA, maintains the West Legal Directory. There are two ways to search this directory:
    1. "search by location", This is the normal way to search when you seek an attorney to solve a problem.
    2. "search by name", the way to find credentials of an attorney whose name you found in another source (e.g., telephone book Yellow Pages, recommendation from a friend).

  2. One can also search the Internet for web sites for law firms or attorneys by using a search engine, such as Google.

    The search should include some words that indicate a specific area of law, for example:
    Example:   To find attorneys who practice education law in Massachusetts, one might use the Google search engine, with the query:
    attorney Massachusetts "education law"
    Note the quotation marks around "education law" so this term is searched as a phrase.

    In search engines that accept a Boolean query, I suggest:
    (attorney or lawyer) and Massachusetts and "education law"
    If the search engine has a sort by field, use the name of the state (e.g., Massachusetts).

  3. The Yellow Pages of the telephone book contains advertisements for some lawyers, but many prestigious attorneys choose not to advertise there. These advertisements are expensive: a 3.8 × 2.3 inch display advertisement in the Boston Yellow Pages for the year 2000 costs about $ 7440.

    If you are interested in either personal injury law, criminal defense, bankruptcy, or divorce law, there are many advertisements under Lawyers or Attorneys. But if you are interested in a less common specialty (e.g., computer law, education law, copyright law), then you will probably do better to look in the Guide, Arranged by Practice that immediately follows the main listing of Lawyers or Attorneys.

  4. Bar associations in some states and large cities have a list of local attorneys. The American Bar Association has a web page with links to lawyer referral programs of these state and local bar associations.

  5. The best-known directory of attorneys in the USA is published by Martindale-Hubbell. If you have access to LEXIS/NEXIS on-line databases, you can search the Martindale-Hubbell directory there. A cruder search engine is provided at the Martindale-Hubbell Internet site, which provides several ways to search:
    1. search by "location/area of practice", the normal way to search when you seek an attorney to solve a problem.

    2. search by "lawyer", the way to find credentials of an attorney whose name you found in another source (e.g., telephone book Yellow Pages, recommendation from a friend).

    Martindale-Hubbell is expensive: in the year 2003, a listing there plus a link to my website cost $ 1855, but referred only 23 hits to my website, none of whom became paying clients. I had a listing in Martindale-Hubbell during 1999-2003, but I have discontinued my advertising there.

U.S. Patent Office

The U.S. Patent Office maintains its own qualifications and examinations for people who are authorized to prosecute patent applications for clients. (To take the Patent Office examination, a candidate must have at least a bachelor's degree with a major in physics, chemistry, biology, or some area of engineering — a requirement that excludes most attorneys.)

A "patent agent" is a non-attorney, who prepares patent applications for clients. A "patent attorney" is licensed to practice law in at least one state and is also a patent agent. Patent attorneys often do licensing, technology transfer, patent infringement litigation, as well as practice in areas of copyright, trademark, and trade secret law.

The U.S. Patent Office has posted on the Internet a list of names, addresses, and telephone numbers of Patent Attorneys and Agents Registered to Practice before the PTO.   The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office can not assist people in the selection of an attorney. 37 CFR 1.31.

Family Law

After I posted some essays at my website about pre- and post-nuptial agreements, reimbursement of a spouse's educational expense at divorce, and the legal duty of divorced parents to pay for their child's college education, I received some inquiries asking for a referral to an attorney who specializes in such matters.

The most prestigious organization of attorneys who specialize in family law is the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which has a directory of its members in each state. Of course, there are many competent and experienced divorce attorneys who are not members of the AAML.

One can use the hints above to find attorneys via West Legal Directory, the Internet, telephone Yellow Pages, or bar associations. My impression is that most attorneys who specialize in family law do not have a website. On the other hand, clients might want to choose an attorney who has an informative website, to reward that attorney for sharing information on the Internet.

If both parties in a divorce are committed to reaching a settlement — instead of slow, expensive, adversarial litigation — then you might want to search for "collaborative divorce" attorneys in your state.

If you want an unconventional prenuptial agreement, but local specialists in family law tell you "You can't do that," then you have a dilemma:
  1. You can have a specialist in family law write a prenuptial agreement that is probably enforceable at divorce, but does not include all of your wishes and desires.

  2. You could find a local attorney who: and have him/her draft the prenuptial agreement that you really want. However, such a prenuptial agreement may not be enforceable at divorce. And using a nonspecialist in family law to draft a contract may make it more likely that there will be omissions of contingencies that a specialist, because of his/her experience and knowledge, could anticipate. And, be aware that, as you get a more unconventional prenuptial agreement, it may also be easier to attack the validity of that agreement at divorce, which reduces the value and utility of the prenuptial agreement.
The problem is not that specialists in family law tend to be rigidly conventional, but that judges in divorce courts (who you ask to enforce the contract) are rigidly conventional.

My Comments on Advertising by Attorneys

Many advertisements by attorneys, particular the advertisements on television or display advertisements in the telephone Yellow Pages, are superficial and give little information about the attorney's credentials.

In my opinion, pictures of scales of justice are a cliché. In my opinion, slogans (e.g., "Let us fight for you!") are empty promises, besides — do you really want a jousting match, or do you want a solution to your problem? Moreover, every attorney owes a duty of loyalty to his/her client, so additional promises are superfluous.

Resources to Avoid

The resources listed above are all that I can recommend. However, there is a rapid proliferation of commercial web sites that list names and addresses of attorneys in the USA. I see a number of problems with these new commercial sites:

There has also been a proliferation of websites in which a person types a few sentences about their problem in an online bulletin board and an attorney then gives advice to that person. I am dismayed by such "services," for the following reasons: The operators of these online bulletin boards sanctimoniously speak of their "public service" in making legal advice available at no cost to the users. Is it really a desirable service to have superficial or inaccurate answers to legal questions? I believe these online bulletin boards are nothing more than a way for the website operators to make money from selling banner advertisements. The free legal advice is just a ploy to attract many visitors to the website, thus increasing the number of clicks on the banner advertisements.

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created 3 July 1998, modified 15 Dec 2004, minor revision 3 Jan 2012

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