You are about to embark on possibly the biggest financial transaction of your life—you are going to purchase your first home! Or, perhaps you are buying a business property, or selling your home and when you bought your house, you weren’t really happy with your lawyer.

So, how do I find the right lawyer to guide me through this important transaction?

Certainly you can ask your friends, or your realtor, for a suggestion. But you still want to speak to the attorney before you make up your mind. Maybe you want to speak to more than one.

What should you look for?

For one, if you call an attorney and you can’t get him or her on the phone, or they do not return your call the same day or have an experienced paralegal call you, that is a red flag. A second red flag would be if the person you speak to can’t tell you which lawyer will handle your closing.

There are many experienced paralegals and real estate assistants in New Jersey who know the nuts and bolts of a real estate transaction. However, virtually none of them is licensed to practice law. Similar to a nurse who is highly skilled but did not graduate from medical school, a paralegal or real estate assistant is only as good as the attorney they work for.

Ask the attorney you call to take you through the process. Be satisfied that the lawyer knows what to expect and will guide you through from contract review to closing to any post closing loose ends that need to be tied up.

Ask the attorney not only about his or her experience in handling real estate closings, but also who would handle the closing if he or she is unavailable through vacation, illness or conflict. Who will you be speaking to during the transaction? Who will attend the closing?

There are ratings websites on the internet. Read them but also be guided by your personal feeling after speaking with the attorney and his or her office personnel.

Don’t be afraid to ask about fees. If it is a purchase, not only ask for the attorney’s fee but also if the attorney charges for “incidentals”, such as copies, phone calls, or “title review”. An attorney’s only fees should be his or her attorney’s fee, messenger fees and ACTUAL recording costs, nothing else. Do not choose the cheapest attorney (which indicates the lawyer is going to spend little time on your deal) but not the most expensive either.

Finally, ask the attorney if you send a contract right away, will the lawyer review the contract right away? A delay of more than 2 business days is a red flag. Although an attorney can usually get an extension of the three day attorney review period, a delay in contract review keeps open the time when your seller (or buyer) can find another property, or change their mind.

Buying or selling a house can be a stressful experience. If you know what to ask, the process of choosing an attorney should not be.