General Question

hearkat's avatar

How does one go about hiring a legal or financial professional from among so many potential choices?

Asked by hearkat (22723points) February 8th, 2014

Life has always been pretty simple for us, so we’ve never needed anyone to help with taxes or legal concerns. However, some more complicated scenarios have arisen, and we really could use some help.

The problem is, CPAs and Lawyers are plentiful, and we don’t really know other people in our part of the state from whom we can get personal recommendations. Online ‘ratings’ sites seem very limited at this point in time, because there are few people who actually contribute to them unless they have a major complaint.

Beyond verifying the degree and/or license, how can one narrow down their options to find someone they can trust?

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15 Answers

Seaofclouds's avatar

I would ask them for references. It’s a bit more work for you to check their references, but it gives you an opportunity to talk to people that have worked with them first hand.

gailcalled's avatar

Do you have any personal connections with the officers where you bank? Perhaps one of them could recommend a lawyer, accountant or financial advisor.

hearkat's avatar

@gailcalled – No. We opened a joint account with a new bank when we moved in together, and selected it for its convenient mobile banking features – we almost never step foot in a physical bank.

@Seaofclouds – I hadn’t thought of that. On the other hand, who’s going to give a reference source that might not a less-than-glowing report?

gailcalled's avatar

OK. What about any of your professional colleagues at work? Or at your fiancee’s?

hearkat's avatar

@gailcalled – As I mentioned, we don’t know anyone who lives in this area of the state. We lived and worked over 90 miles apart when we met, and moved to an area that’s halfway between our jobs. No one from our workplaces is familiar with our county.

Cruiser's avatar

One thing on your side is CPA’s have a fiduciary and legal responsibility to give you 100% legal tax advice and service or they will lose their license. That said I have both a large CPA firm for my business and a smallish CPA for my personal tax returns I found through Google. You just have to do a search either internet or yellow pages and go interview them. Do ask for references and go forward from there.

hearkat's avatar

@Cruiser – What questions do I ask in an interview?

gailcalled's avatar

Do you have a dentist or PCP you like who might have suggestions?

Cruiser's avatar

@hearkat I would stay focused on the services you need, the fees involved. CPA’s charge both by the task as in a year end tax return or hourly for monthly or quarterly financial compilations. There is a potential savings by asking if they can make available an assistant to due the rudimentary tasks required and this can add up to huge savings. My corp CPA charges big bucks but most of what I need done is and can be done by the assistant which affords me a big discount.

Other than that the next biggest question would be expected turn around on the expected task. My small personal tax accountant can turn around my yearly return in less than 2 weeks where the big corporate accountant told me it would be at least a month. My personal accountant does it for ¼ the cost of the big firm.

hearkat's avatar

@gailcalled: No. I go to Doctors so infrequently that I haven’t changed to local providers and instead travel 25–40 miles each way a few times a year for checkups, and incorporate other errands or meet friends back there.

gailcalled's avatar

Well, I am completely out of ideas, unless you stop random strangers in the street who look intelligent and well-dressed and ask one of them (or the owner of an upscale restaurant where you eat occasionally). It is an interesting dilemma. How big is the community? Small enough to have a user-friendly Chamber of Commerce? I would put that at pop. < 20,000.

hearkat's avatar

@gailcalled: I don’t know how to guesstimate population size, since nearly everything in NJ is densely populated; thus the physical area of the town lines is what determines population size. We’re between Rutgers and Princeton, so it’s a well-populated and well educated area with a very diverse cultural variety; but also one where such professionals might be inclined to charge a hefty fee. We are professional people, but we are middle-class wage earners, so we don’t want someone charging us Mercedes rates, when we’re Volkswagen owners (90K and 110K miles, at that)

gailcalled's avatar

My last thought is to pop into the bank you chose, just to make contact w. one of the officers.

And even in the Princeton- New Brunswick areas, there should be lawyers who have middle-income clients and charge reasonable fees. How you find them is beyond even my creative powers. Sorry. I gave it my best shot.

Wealthadvisor's avatar

Go to the CFP board of standards website, and on the right hand side choose the “Find a CFP Professional,” It will return a list of CFP’s in your area.

Most CFP’s will do an initial consultation for free. This gives you the opportunity to sit down and talk to him or her. This way you can see if they can help you as well as gives you the opportunity to see if you like them.

They will give you a form ADV which will list their fee schedule, how they are paid, (fee, commission or a combination,) and any conflicts of interest.

Most CFP’s have CPA’s. estate planning lawyers, attorney’s and insurance people they work with and can be trusted. You can get all the different people you may need through one person.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Hi Kat,

First, you’re right to begin by seeking people with training and certification. Anyone can offer financial planning, accounting, and tax advice services; outside of the credentialed professions, there are no standards for quality.

Second, you’ll want to make sure that the credential is legit, not something purchased through a website. There’s a whole universe of meaningless “alphabet soup” after people’s names, which they bought for $25 online.

Third, rely heavily on referrals, reputation, and recommendations. Even if someone has a legitimate certification and license, that person isn’t necessarily good. Haven’t we all known our fair share of inept physicians, nurses, therapists, attorneys, real estate agents, etc.? There’s a reason why state boards frequently impose sanctions and revoke licenses. There are countless more problems that escape any official action.

Good luck with this. I hope everything works out for you.

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