The most vulnerable people seem to most frequently be victimized by lawyers and immigrants are particularly vulnerable in this respect. Today the Washington State Supreme Court confirmed the two-year suspension of Bakaray Fansu Conteh, an Everett lawyer, whose negligence may cause the deportation of one individual and left another individual without any recourse against the negligent driver who injured him.
These clients of his may not have known — the decision doesn’t say — that in 2009 Mr. Conteh had been reprimanded by the Bar Association for apparently counseling a client to make a false representation on an application for asylum (which is grounds for deportation), and in 2012 his license was suspended for six months for varieties of misconduct.
There are a number of things that can be done to minimize the risk of bad representation. First, check out the lawyer. The only peer review — and to my knowledge — the only reasonably reliable lawyer rating system is at Martindale.com. But that is not enough. Contact the Washington State Bar Association (206-727-8207) and inquire about disciplinary action against the lawyer and ask whether the lawyer is insured. Google the lawyer and check out his or her website. Do not rely on advertising. Contact anyone you know who might have useful information.
Interview at least three lawyers who seem to meet your requirements. The King County Bar Association’s referral service can give you a list if you call them ((206) 267-7010). If you are not in King County contact your local bar association for help. It is important to find someone you trust and can work with. During the interview ask if there are clients you can speak to about him or her. Find out about experience in the area of your concern and follow-up on that information to confirm its accuracy as best you can. Discuss exactly how the lawyer would proceed with your case. You should confirm that you will be given a list of deadlines and that you will receive copies of everything received and sent from his or her office — and review these things as you receive them. Do not be fearful of contacting the lawyer to discuss your concerns but be aware that if you are paying an hourly rate, this can significantly increase the bill you receive.
During the interview it is important to find out about cost, both as a basis of comparison and to measure against your budget. Be very clear about what you can afford, as a very bad result is having to stop a process when you run out of money. Get a copy of the agreement that you are to sign if you are to hire this lawyer. Do not sign the agreement then but take it home to compare with the others. Do not be afraid to bargain on the rate or propose a creative method of paying that you can manage. Be aware that different lawyers charge different contingent fees, commonly ranging from 25% to 50% of the money won in litigation. You will also have to pay costs in a contingent fee case and find out how that is managed. Many lawyers take set fees, rather than billing by the hour, for a matter. This too should be discussed.
If you can’t afford a lawyer, explore lawyer volunteer organizations, again begin with your local bar association.