Why and how to choose a real estate lawyer in California

A routine real estate purchase or sale may often be completed successfully without an attorney. However, a diligent buyer or seller seeks legal advice.

Even in the case of a seemingly straightforward purchase or sale of residential or commercial real estate, it is wise to consult with an attorney before making such an impactful transaction. Your real estate broker may be honest and competent, but a well-qualified lawyer in your geographical area is keen on protecting your rights and best interests. An experienced legal advocate on your side will be well aware of what can go wrong in your real estate transaction and how to prevent problems or resolve them.

When troubles are already apparent, it's clearly time to seek quality legal counsel

Sometimes a real estate deal promises to be complex or problematic from the start. Legal counsel is particularly important in such a case before you sign a buy-sell contract for a home or commercial property. Naturally, if someone is suing you or if boundary issues or title defects are evident, the question is no longer if you need a real estate attorney, but rather, which one you should select and how to make that critical decision.

Following are some effective guidelines for finding and hiring a real estate attorney.

Key questions to ask and where to get answers:

  • What will it cost to work with an attorney? Sometimes, a better question is, "What might it cost you in the long run not to have the best legal advice you can afford?" The stakes can be high enough that the end result will matter more than attorney fees. Do clarify fee structures in advance. If appropriate, propose a flat-fee agreement for a typical transaction. Ask about circumstances that might trigger additional fees.
  • Where can you get the best advice for choosing a lawyer, taking into account your unique circumstances? A referral from an attorney you already know can be a valuable source of a strong recommendation. Your tax attorney or estate planning lawyer may have a good suggestion. Friends, family members, your employer and your local or state bar association can all be trustworthy resources.
  • Should you look for a sole practitioner or a large law firm? There are certainly very well-qualified sole practitioners, and the size of a law firm does not guarantee you will have a satisfactory experience. Do ask whether an attorney or law firm focuses on issues relevant to your concerns, and what to expect if your case becomes more complicated than anticipated.
  • What should you ask at the initial consultation with an attorney you're considering? After you have narrowed your search to several strong candidates, consult briefly with each one. Find out about each one's background and experience. If paralegals or legal assistants will play significant roles in your legal matter, you may meet them briefly, also. Good rapport with the professionals who will guide you through a pivotal real estate transaction can be reassuring and get your case off to a good start.