What Should I Look For When Retaining An Attorney?

My husband and I are buying our first house and we want to make sure our attorney works in our best interest. What should we look for when retaining an attorney?

When choosing an attorney you want to be sure that the attorney has experience with residential real estate transactions.  The less real estate experience an attorney has, the greater the chances that you will end up paying for his/her expensive mistakes.

 One of the best ways to find an attorney with the requisite experience is to ask friends, family and colleagues for a referral. You can also call the local bar association for a referral. Relying upon the referral of  your broker does not necessarily lead to the best outcome for you.

 Once you have identified attorneys that you believe have the experience you are looking for, the most important consideration is the attorney’s willingness to listen, answer questions and communicate with you.  Don’t hesitate to ask the attorney questions, not only about his/her qualifications but also about how your transaction will proceed, about the sorts of problems might arise and about the steps the attorney will take to avoid those problems. If the attorney works in a firm that employs more than one attorney or that employs legal assistants and/or paralegals, you should ask the attorney to identify the people who will actually be working on your file so you know who to go to with questions.

Another important factor is the attorney’s ability to make your transaction a priority. If the attorney is going to be away on vacation when contracts need to be negotiated or on trial when the closing is likely to occur, chances are neither you nor the seller’s attorney will not receive the personalized attention required to keep your transaction from falling between the cracks.

 Although the fee that the attorney will charge is obviously something you should discuss, keep in mind that you usually get what you pay for. Choosing an attorney based solely on his/her fee may end up costing you dearly in the end, especially if the lower fee is based upon the fact that much of the work relating to your transaction is being handled by support staff rather than the attorney.

As you can see, which attorney you retain to represent you when purchasing your first home may mean the difference between a transaction that goes smoothly and is completed in the time frame and at the cost you expected, and one that is plagued by delays and problems, results in additional stress, and costs you both financially and emotionally. Choose carefully, and good luck!


Linda M. Toga of The Law Offices of Linda M. Toga, P.C. is an East Setauket, New York attorney with a general law practice focusing on estate planning, real estate, marital planning, small business services and litigation.