After just over a decade in the legal services industry, I’ve learned a thing or two about hiring an attorney. Reputation matters, and the best attorney-client relationships come from strong referrals, so I appreciate when I can say “hey, this attorney is really great, and you should consider consulting with them.” In all, there are four things to look for when making those referrals and hiring legal counsel.
- How much will this cost? Attorneys are expensive, but practicing law and running a successful business isn’t cheap. Look for attorneys who bill what they are worth but are efficient in the work they do. Does the attorney offer services on a flat fee basis? If so, how much time does that equate out to, given the “going” rate for attorney services in that practice area. Median billing rates for attorneys in Minnesota range from $150-199/hour (median non-metro rate) to over $400/hour (large firms, highly experienced attorneys) depending on what practice area their expertise is, their experience, and their geographical location. There’s also consideration of their staff rates, which average around $80/hour, but can go over $150/hour in Minnesota.
- How does the firm utilize its paralegal staff and what are the qualifications of the staff? I have worked as a paralegal in several firms, varied in size, and in several practice areas (intellectual property, bankruptcy, civil litigation, family law, criminal law). I’m also a credentialed paralegal, meaning I not only have the education and experience needed for job efficiency, I also have proven my skills in a testing environment. We’re used to seeing “Esq.” after an attorney’s name in their signature block, but do you know what those alphabet soup letters are after a paralegals name?
- MnCP– Minnesota Certified Paralegal. This is a credential offered by the Minnesota Paralegal Association (a program I co-wrote) and is based on a paralegal’s education and experience. There is a continuing education requirement, which is 10 CLE, including 1 ethics credit, reported and renewed every two years. You can learn more about the MnCP program here.
- CRPTM– CORE Registered Paralegal. The CRP credential is for entry-level paralegals or those who do not have a college degree in paralegal studies. It is based upon education, experience, or a combination of the two, as well as an exam. The credential is offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (“NFPA”), and NFPA offers this to both early career paralegals and those just finishing their education. This provides that the paralegal has the baseline knowledge to provide effective support for attorneys. CRPs are also required to meet CLE requirements, 8 hours every two years, including 1 hour in ethics. Learn more about CRPTM here.
- RP® – PACE (Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam) Registered Paralegal. This is another credential offered by NFPA taken by experienced paralegals that requires an exam. This exam is hard. I was lucky in that Brandan helped me prepare, using his bar exam study materials, so I passed on my first try. Many don’t. The RP® is really the “gold standard” for paralegal certification in Minnesota. The exam covers five domains: administration of client legal matters, development of client legal matters, factual and legal research, factual and legal writing, and office administration; ethics, technology, and terminology are incorporated into the five domains. To even apply to sit for the exam, an applicant must have a college degree, several years of experience, and letters of recommendation. The RP® CLE requirement is 12 credits, including one hour of ethics, every two years. Learn more about the RP® credential here.
- CP – Certified Paralegal ®. CPs are credentialed by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). You won’t see too many CPs in Minnesota, because there isn’t a huge NALA presence here. CPs meet minimum education and experience requirements and sit for an intense examination (similar to PACE). CPs must take 50 hours of CLE every five years, including five hours of ethics credit.Learn more about the CP® credential here.
- ACP – Advanced Certified Paralegal.Another credential offered by NALA, the ACP. ACPs have completed their CP® credentialing, and successfully complete a mastery course (including exercises) in specific areas of law.
A competent paralegal current with professional development can help keep your fees down, but more importantly, can make or break your case. I may be biased, but paralegals play a critical role in the successful delivery of legal services today.
- Community Involvement.It’s critical attorneys (and their staff) are well-rounded with a work-life balance. Look for “life” beyond work and family and like to see that they are involved in their community in one way or another. Whether it is board service, elected office, or volunteering with political, charitable, or non-profit organizations, see that the firm supports the communities they serve.
- Professional Development.Of course, attorneys have CLE requirements to maintain their licenses, but do they go above and beyond the minimum? Attorneys that have mastered certain areas or niches in the law often teach CLE or write articles for local, state, and national publications. Paralegals and legal assistants may also show professional development in the same way (although often firms don’t highlight these achievements, but they absolutely should). I also like to see that attorneys and/or staff have served in leadership roles within professional associations or government boards because this shows a commitment to advancement of the industry.
At Borgos Law, we are sure to check all of the boxes so our clients get the best value for their dollar. As a virtual firm, our billable rates are generally lower than average because we don’t have the overhead other firms do, but we also take our professional and personal development seriously, which costs money. On behalf of the firm, I hope the above is helpful in making your decision to hire the right attorney and the right firm for your legal matter.