Select a Property Tax Attorney
If you believe that the appraisal on your property was too high, you may want to hire a property tax attorney. An experienced property tax attorney can challenge the tax assessment and get you a refund. Finding a qualified property tax attorney is not difficult: you will need to draw up a list of candidates, study their websites, and attend an initial consultation.
Conducting Your Search
- Make a list of local tax attorneys. Search online for tax attorneys, by typing in “tax attorney” and then your state. If you live in Alabama, for example, you would type “tax attorneys in Alabama.” Look for attorneys who have offices in your county or city.
- You can also search through online phone directories, such as Yellow Pages, Yellow Book, or Switchboard.
- Visit your state’s bar association website or call them and ask for a referral. State bar associations keep referral lists which can be searched by area of legal specialty.
- Gather referrals from people you know. Ask friends or business associates if they have ever worked with a property tax attorney. Ask them about their experience with their attorney. As in other areas, a referral from someone who has had direct experience with a professional and whose judgment you trust can be a reliable guide.
- Review each attorney’s website. Once you have a list of attorneys, run web searches to look for their website. It is standard practice today for lawyers to have a website. Here are a few things to look for when you find the website:
- Prior property tax experience. Attorneys should list representative cases they have worked on. Look to see that they have worked on property tax cases during the past couple years.
- Information about tax or property law. Many attorneys keep blogs on their website. Check to see if the attorney has written articles about property tax issues. This will show that she is engaged in this area of law.
- Professional affiliations. Look for any professional organizations that the attorney belongs to, especially those related to property tax. The National Association of Property Tax Attorneys is a group of real estate attorneys across the nation who work in the field.
- Grammar and spelling. An abundance of grammar and spelling errors signals that the attorney is sloppy. An attorney should be able to use proper grammar, or at the least know how to turn on the spell check.
- Check online reviews. Many websites offer free reviews of businesses, including law firms and individual attorneys. Some places to look for reviews include Find Law, Avvo, and Yahoo Local.
- Be mindful that negative reviews often outnumber positive reviews since those who are upset are often more motivated to leave reviews. Furthermore, reviews are one-sided, offering only the client’s perspective.
- Find out if the attorney has earned a Martindale-Hubbell rating. "AV" is the highest ability/highest ethics rating based on the opinion of lawyers and judges who know the attorney. Only 10% of American lawyers have achieved this rating. Only 50% of all lawyers have earned a rating, so A-B-C rated lawyers are in the top 50%. Moreover, you cannot have an ability rating unless you have earned the highest ethics rating (the "V" rating).
Choosing Your Attorney
- Schedule a consultation. Call the attorney and ask for a consultation. A receptionist may ask you a series of preliminary questions to find out if your legal issue is one that the attorney works on. If it is, then the receptionist should schedule you for either an in-person or telephone consultation.
- Try to get an in-person consultation. This will ensure that you like the attorney and know that you can work with him or her.
- The consultation will likely be free. More and more attorneys offer free consultations. If the attorney wants to charge a fee, it should be small (not more than $50). However, if you don’t want to pay any fee, then rest assured that there will be plenty of attorneys who will meet with you for free.
- Prepare for your meeting. You can prepare for the consultation by writing out a short list of questions. Be sure to ask: br>
- The number of property tax cases the attorney has handled in the past 5 years.
- If the attorney knows the people who assess property taxes.
- Attend your consultation. Arrive early and prepared. Be sure to bring any documents requested. For example, the attorney will probably want to see a copy of your property tax assessment or home appraisal.
- Ask about fees. An attorney should be willing to discuss his fee schedule during a free consultation.
Be sure to ask about costs as well. Many property tax attorneys will work on a contingency fee basis. Under this arrangement, the attorney will not be paid anything unless she recovers money for you. You will still probably have to pay for costs, such as filing fees.
- If the attorney offers only hourly rates, ask if she would be open to a contingency or a flat-fee arrangement. Flat fees are often available for routine legal tasks of little complexity.
- If you decide to hire the attorney then you will have to sign an engagement letter. This letter will spell out the attorney’s obligations and define the scope of the representation. It should also lay out in detail the fee schedule. Check to see that you are being charged the same fee as was quoted at the consultation.
- If the fees are different, ask why before signing the engagement letter.
- Ask which attorney will work on the case. In large firms, work is often handed off to junior attorneys to complete and then reviewed by the senior attorney. Clarify what portion of the work will be completed by junior attorneys.
- For example, ask if the senior attorney attends all of the hearings. If not, ask whether he sometimes assigns this task to non-lawyers, as he is authorized to do in most jurisdictions.
- Answer questions accurately and honestly. The attorney will need a better understanding of the facts of your case and should be able to discuss in general terms how he or she will proceed and how your tax case will be handled.
- Request a referral. If the attorney cannot represent you, either because of a conflict or because he does not practice the specific area of law, then ask for a referral. An attorney probably knows several other property tax attorneys and could be a good source of recommendations.
- When contacting the referred attorney, be sure to mention who referred you to him or her.
- Your attorney should be able to answer questions confidently. However, because property tax issues can be complicated, it is possible the attorney may have to research the specifics of the law and how it applies to your case. Do not assume that because an attorney needs to do research that he is a bad choice.
- When reviewing an attorney website, don't be fooled by advertising slogans such as "former local government attorney" or "aggressive property tax advocate." Meet the lawyer and decide if you have confidence in his or her skills and feel comfortable with the analysis of your case.
- Remember that you can fire your attorney whenever you want.