Legal Aid Denise Aguilar

When an event or circumstance arises in your life that you think might require the expertise of an attorney, you may be at a loss as to where to start to find the right one. There are plenty of advertisements on television and online, but how do you know if you will get value for your money, if the attorney will be attentive to you and your needs, and whether the attorney will do a good job for you?

Rather than using the phone number you remember from the commercial jingle, I would recommend asking people you trust first. It may not be the most comfortable situation in the world, sharing your problems with other people, but if you know someone who has been through a similar quandary, doesn’t it make sense to ask them who helped them through it, what they thought of their attorney, and whether they would recommend them?

Of course, not everyone will want to divulge personal issues to friends or family members, and that is understandable. Or maybe your circle of friends hasn’t been through what you’re going through. In that case, I would recommend doing your research. There are some good resources out there to find an attorney who practices in the area of law that you need help in, whose office is convenient to your location, and can even provide information regarding records of discipline, client reviews, and peer reviews. Look for these resources online.

Choose a few attorneys you want to interview. Make no mistake, as much as the lawyer is assessing your case to see if he or she wants to take it on, you are interviewing the attorney to see if this is someone you want to work with, someone you trust to be responsible for an important part of your life in the short, and sometimes the long-term depending on the kind of help you need. Is the attorney accessible to you to answer questions? Do they return phone calls within 24 hours? How long have they been handling cases like yours?

It is not unusual for the majority of the contact you have with an attorney’s office be with non-attorney staff members. An attorney will generally be willing to give you legal advice if you come in for an appointment, sometimes at a free consultation and sometimes there is a fee involved, but it is not unusual for an attorney to refuse to give legal advice over the phone to someone they have never met with and have no background on. Don’t take offense to this, we are held to high standards in terms of giving proper advice to our clients, but also there must be boundaries as to who and who is not a client and whether there is a formal representation agreement involved. We are required to have good boundaries for your protection.

In dealing with your potential attorney’s staff, are they courteous and respectful to you? Is the staff a pleasure to work with? Do they give you the information you need about the office and make it easy for you to make an appointment?

These are all signs of how you will be treated as a client if you retain this attorney’s office to help through your situation. You should feel comfortable with the people who will be helping you, but don’t expect the staff to give you legal advice either — they are prohibited from doing so.

At the end of the day, although you may feel some stress about the situation that brought you to meet with an attorney to begin with, you should not feel more stress about the situation when you walk out of the office. An attorney may not always be able to give you good news, but they should be able to give you a plan for how they can help you deal with the situation and some idea of what to expect the outcome to be.

• Denise K. Aguilar is an attorney based in Ahwatukee. Her practice focuses in consumer bankruptcy, personal injury and criminal defense. Reach her at (480) 455-1881 or visit

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