What you are looking for in a lawyer and how to tell them apart


Attorney practice areas can be divided into several areas. Here is a quick break down to help you understand what kind of attorney you need:

  • Criminal Defense lawyer:
    • A criminal defense attorney practices criminal law representing defendants. Typically, they are either private attorneys or public defenders. Some private attorneys also contract with the Public Defender’s office to act as Special Public Defenders in Missouri.
    • Many – if not most – successful criminal defense attorneys started out either as prosecutors or as Public Defenders.
    • Missouri’s Public Defenders are among the best criminal defense attorneys in the state. But they cannot take on any civil work.
    • Many lawyers do criminal defense work, but you should definitely ask about the attorney’s experience.
  • “Trial Lawyer”:
    • The term “Trial Lawyer” has largely come to mean a plaintiff’s attorney. These are the lawyers that take on civil cases such as car accidents, personal injury and medical malpractice. There is a lot of overlap with small firms (like Nolan Law Firm) partnering with larger firms that do plaintiff’s work exclusively. Don’t be afraid to bring you case to a local “Trial Attorney” or small firm, because they very well may partner with the largest firms or specialists in your particular area. Although, you should ask if the attorney or firm will partner with another firm. Plaintiff’s work can get expensive and your trial attorney needs to have the capital to see it through.
  • Family Law:
    • A family law attorney tends to work through the variety of family issues from prenups to divorces and paternity through almost any other issue a family may experience.
  • General practice:
    • A general practitioner does a little bit of everything. You will find general practitioners in every community, however, in rural areas, most firms tend to general practitioners to that extent that some areas of practice are important not lucrative enough to focus a practice solely. General practitioners also tend to like different areas of law and the constant education that comes with keeping up with it or researching for a particular client.
  • Probate, Estates and Trusts:
    • Very important are of law, that is done by general practitioners and firms focusing on the fields. And additional area that plays very well in with these is Elder Law. Elder Law is becoming more and more important as the Baby Boomers age into retirement and beyond. There are a lot of non-attorneys, including financial services companies and insurance companies, pitching basic forms, but these are important issues and your questions deserve to be answered by a lawyer. Even if you decide to go with a pitch by your investment firm or insurance provider, you should have the paperwork reviewed by your own lawyer to ensure it does what you want.
  • Specialist firms:
    • First, the Bar doesn’t like the term specialist. We are not allowed to use the term “specialist” to describe ourselves unless a disclaimer stating that neither the Missouri Bar nor the Missouri Supreme Court reviews or approves certifying organizations or specialist designations.
    • Above stated, there truly are areas of law where you need a specialist, which is defined here as an attorney focusing on and predominantly practicing in one area. Example of this include, but are not limited to:
      • Social Security Law
      • Class Actions
      • Veteran’s Law
      • Mergers and Acquisitions
      • International Law
      • Immigration Law

Other areas of law include real estate, business, corporate, and many more that I haven’t mentioned. Understanding the type of lawyer you need is one of the steps to hiring the right lawyer for your case.