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Articles, US Customs

Choosing a Customs Attorney

Choosing an attorney to represent you on matters of international trade can be a difficult decision. When choosing a lawyer to represent you, it can be difficult to subjectively rank them according to specific criteria. The following questions are designed to assist you in choosing an International Trade Attorney.


“How many years of experience do you have? Experience helps, but is not always crucial. An aggressive young lawyer may be more suited than an older lawyer exhausted by years of courtroom battle. On the other hand, you probably don’t want to hire somebody fresh out of law school on a complex matter. Be sure to look for an attorney that has some experience working with the specific government agency that is most applicable to your bussiness.

How many cases or transactions like this have you handled? Again, experience counts. You don’t want to be paying a young lawyer to learn at your expense. If the lawyer is unfamiliar with your type of problem, get a commitment for how long it will take for the lawyer to become conversant with the legal issues involved?

How much legal research do you expect to do on this case, and why? Doing legal research is a good thing, but not to learn the subject matter. A well-qualified lawyer can give you an estimate in your first conversation about what he or she thinks the legal issues are, and any lawyer who’s worth hiring will tell you what he or she doesn’t know. But if the issues aren’t that complex but the lawyer is expecting to do a lot of research, that may be an indication that this lawyer hasn’t handled enough of this kind of cases.

Would you be comfortable handling my case? Most lawyers want to handle whatever they can bring in if it interests them. Yet the lawyer may not have the right skills to handle this case. Don’t be afraid to ask this question.

Can you give me the names of a couple of clients who have had cases similar to mine? Most lawyers will want to check with prior clients to see if they would mind speaking with you (lawyers are, after all supposed to be discrete and expert at maintaining confidences, and you probably wouldn’t want to have your name given out without your permission). But a former client may give you lots more information about the lawyer than you can get yourself.

Can you give me the names of a couple of lawyers who represented other parties in cases like mine? Same as above, except the lawyers probably can evaluate the lawyer better than the client can. Neither is fool-proof, since the lawyer will be selecting what names he or she give you. But you may get some valuable information.

Have you written anything about any case similar to mine? Lawyers interviewing for law jobs are invariably asked for writing samples. Clients should as well. Good writing is often important, and the client should see early on whether the lawyer can write simply, directly, and persuasively.


What law school did you go to? Harvard may be the best school in the country, or it may not. It’s subjective. Someone from a “good” school who hasn’t been practicing for years probably is not as good as somebody who has practiced regularly and well since graduation from a “lesser” school. The ranking of schools is subjective, and anyway, you want a lawyer, not a pedigree. Graduation from a given law school simply does not insure that this lawyer can handle your legal matter.

How many cases have you won? Any lawyer who claims never to have lost a case simply hasn’t tried enough of them. This kind of statistic is meaningless unless you get deeply into the facts of each case. As a client, you don’t have time to do this.

What organizations do you belong to? Most lawyers belong to many organizations with highfalutin names. Why join an organization that sounds cheesy? But nearly all the organizations that a lawyer belongs do will accept as members anyone who can pay the membership fee, so membership doesn’t guarantee anything. A few organizations do, such as the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) or the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers. Yet requiring a lawyer to be members of these invitational bodies doesn’t solve the problem, either, because they usually require a greater amount of trial or appellate experience than most lawyers can get these days, and you may be shortchanging yourself.

What awards have you won? Many fine lawyers have never won an award because they’ve been too busy representing their clients and raising their families to devote the kind of networking necessary to win such awards. Many–not all, to be sure–are popularity contests. As a client, you don’t have the time to investigate the backgrounds of the awards to determine if they really mean anything.

One Response to “Choosing a Customs Attorney”

  1. Elaine Keita Says:

    I currently seeking a customs lawyer for a container being held by us customs. The broker states that the container may require letter from the trade hold giving the manufacturer premission to sale the product to be shipped and sold in the u.s.