How do I know if I need a lawyer?
If you are dealing with a simple parking ticket, you don’t need a lawyer. But if you have let your parking tickets pile up and have a warrant out for your arrest, hiring a lawyer could save you money and keep you out of jail. A simple question can help you assess your need. “What will I lose if I don’t hire a lawyer?”
If you want to prepare a simple will, a computer program may be perfectly adequate. But selling a house using computer software could be a lot more risky. Hiring a real estate lawyer could protect your from financial loss. In general, the higher the financial risk, the more likely hiring a lawyer will be worth every dollar.
Are there different kinds of lawyers?
The legal field can be compared to medicine. There are general attorneys who are proficient in a wide range of common legal services—residential real estate transactions, simple wills, living wills and other common day-to-day legal issues. Then there are attorneys who specialize in more complicated legal situations—litigation, estate planning, corporate law, tax law, etc.
Which kind of lawyer do I need?
If you need to write up a will and don’t have a large estate, a general attorney will be the most cost efficient choice for you. If you have been arrested for a DUI, you may prefer to hire a lawyer that specializes in DUI law. If you have been involved in an accident, you will need a personal injury lawyer.
If you are facing financial crisis, a bankruptcy lawyer will assist you the most efficiently. If you have been charged with a felony, a criminal lawyer is essential.
A defamation, libel and slander lawyer understands the process of protecting your good name. Some lawyers specialize in insurance disputes. Others focus on tax law, defending clients in tax situations. Some attorneys are experts in dealing with wills, trusts, estates, estate planning and elder law.
How do I choose a lawyer?
One way to locate a good lawyer is to check the attorney’s rating in Martindale Hubbell. This is a directory where lawyers rate each other. If the lawyer isn’t listed, you may need to suspect their reputation. Martindale Hubbell is available on line at http://martindale.com.
After you locate prospective lawyers, there are some basic questions you should ask before you hire:
- How long have you been in practice? Are you licensed?
- Where did you get your degree?
- How much experience do you have with this type of legal issue?
- Have you ever been chosen to write or speak on this legal issue?
- Are you a member of a specialty bar association that is related to this legal area?
- How do you charge for your services?
- Will you be working on this case yourself? Or will you involve associate attorneys and paralegals as well. How will the work be divided and billed if you use assistants?
- Are there any other expenses I will have to pay in addition to your fees?
- What possible outcomes can I expect?
- Do you have malpractice insurance?
- Do you use email to communicate? How do you keep it secure?
- Have you ever been subject to a public disciplinary action?
Also check out the lawyer’s website. Search the internet for information about the law firm. Make sure the school the degree comes from is accredited.
How can I keep the costs down?
One of the best ways to keep costs down is to write down everything you need to tell the attorney about your situation. Have a list of questions ready. This will help you stick to the point and organize your thoughts. Remember a lawyer’s time is his income. Bring any documents (receipts, traffic citations, medical bills, police reports, etc.) that would help the lawyer evaluate your case. Be candid. Honesty between client and attorney is vital.
What are some of the common terms I need to know?
Retainer: Usually this means a deposit or down payment that the attorney applies his/her hourly fees against. Occasionally it refers to the practice some businesses have of paying to have an attorney available whenever they need legal services.
Hourly fee: Most lawyers charge by the hour. Rates vary, so get a quote before you hire. Expect a more experienced lawyer to charge more.
Fixed fee: Routine legal work such as a simple will, bankruptcy filing or real estate closing is often set at a fixed rate. This can vary from firm to firm, so compare before you commit.
Pay only if you win: This means that the attorney works on your behalf, but only charges for his/her services if you win the case. This doesn’t mean that you won’t end up paying for filing a case. If you win you must pay attorney fees and any other expenses incurred to win the case. If you lose, you may find yourself owing legal fees to your opponent. You will also have to pay the expenses related to filing the case.
Contingency fee: This is another term used in connection with pay-only-if-you-win agreements. The law does not allow lawyers to take criminal or family law cases on “contingency.” Contingency agreements usually involve personal injury, disability or employment cases. It is important before you enter into a contingency agreement to know how the lawyer’s fees will be determined if the case has a positive outcome.
Written Fee Agreement: This is a document that puts the fee arrangements between you and the lawyer on paper. This is usually required by law.