It often seems like we get the least guidance with the decisions that are the most important. Choosing a career, a spouse, a home. There's no instruction manual to consult. If we have the advice of friends and family who have been there before, we count ourselves lucky. In the end, we just do the best we can and hope we are making rational choices.

Choosing an attorney is no different. It can be one of the most important decisions that you make, and it's normal to feel overwhelmed, especially when you're no expert on the law and the scope of the problem remains unclear.

The recommendations of friends and family, or of attorneys whom you trust but who may not practice the kind of law for which you have a need, can be an invaluable starting point. But the next step is meeting with prospective attorneys. This may seem daunting: you may suspect that you don't know enough about the law to properly question the prospective lawyer on his or her qualifications (and likely you don't). But keep in mind that you already have the common sense you need to make the most important determination: whether you can work with and trust the person sitting across the desk from you.

Lawyers are not always portrayed in the best light. As a result, we tend to think of an attorney as a bad thing we wish upon our enemies. This perception can regrettably influence how people shop for a lawyer. They become convinced that they have to find a shark — an inconsiderate, obstinate, shortcut-taking aggressor that will make their opponent's life a living hell — and they believe that the most reliable indicator for whether they've found their "shark" is whether they are treated aggressively during the consultation.

The first problem with this approach is that it doesn't result in the assertive advocacy that the client is seeking. Foremost because any attorney that can't modulate their tone contextually isn't going to be that great an advocate. But perhaps even more significantly, an attorney prone to indiscrete aggression and shortcuts is not going to have much incentive to meet their obligations to their clients.  

A lawyer isn't some bad thing that you give to your opponent: he or she is a counselor and advisor that you give to yourself. Be sure to hire one that makes the attorney-client relationship with you a priority. A lawyer who makes you feel valued, who listens to you, who responds timely, is a lawyer committed to earning your trust.  If you have an attorney that you trust, you have an effective attorney. Trustworthiness is a much better indicator of persuasiveness than an aggressive posture. Trust is the first step to winning.