Hiring a Lawyer: Tips and Advice
At some point, most people will need to speak with a lawyer. This is because the law touches virtually every area of our lives. Even if someone is fortunate enough to never be charged with a crime, be a party to a lawsuit, or go through a divorce, retaining a lawyer may still be necessary. For example, most people will eventually buy a home or write a will. Many people adopt children, start businesses, or have the need to research a patent.
Since the quality of legal representation can have a significant impact on a client’s life, learning how to hire a lawyer is important. There are several considerations, including whether a lawyer is necessary for your situation, ensuring that the lawyer has the skills and expertise for your case, and making sure that you can afford the lawyer’s fees.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Sometimes it's hard to decide whether you need a lawyer's assistance, particularly if your legal or financial matter seems routine or low risk. Understandably, many people try to save money by not hiring a lawyer to review simple contracts, purchase agreements, or health care waivers. Some people even attempt to handle routine legal procedures, such as a divorce or an eviction, on their own.
Unfortunately, some individuals have found out the hard way that the law is often more complicated than it appears to be. In addition, the court system was created for the use of lawyers. Attempting to navigate the system without legal expertise can be disastrous.
While there are some legal and court systems that are set up for use by laypeople, such as small claims court, most people benefit from speaking with an attorney about their situation or case. This is true even if hiring an attorney to handle an entire case proves to be unnecessary or simply too costly.
Free or Low-Cost Help
If you are unsure about whether hiring a lawyer is a good idea, there are resources that can assist you in making a decision. Check with your human resources department to find out whether your company has an employee assistance (EA) program. Some EA programs offer free legal advice to members. You can communicate your specific needs to your advisor who can assist you in making a decision regarding getting legal help.
A second option is to contact your state or local bar association, or, alternatively Legal Aid. Resources vary, but you may be able to access legal advice or services at no or low cost through these organizations. They may also have educational programming that can help you understand your case better.
Another option is to speak to a lawyer who offers free or low-cost consultations. This is an opportunity to speak to a lawyer directly, which gives you a chance to evaluate him or her before making a commitment.
Things to Consider When Hiring a Lawyer
Once you've made the decision to hire a lawyer, it's time to start your search. In some cases, you’ll be able to get a good recommendation from a friend or family member. Otherwise, you may be on your own and must rely on the Yellow Pages to find an attorney in your area. In either case, it is usually wise to investigate more than one legal practitioner. This way you can compare attorneys and evaluate them based on things like personality, cost, and experience.
Below is a list of some things to ask about when researching and talking to attorneys. You may wish to use these when making notes as you research lawyers.
- Costs, Retainers, and FeesAmounts and types of lawyer fees vary. Ask an attorney, or his or her representative, what they charge. Many lawyers bill by the hour, although some may perform straightforward legal procedures, such as an uncontested divorce or a bankruptcy, for a flat fee.Another thing to ask about is billing increments. When many of wonder how much is a lawyer going to cost us, we don’t always consider the type of accounting that lawyers use.For example, when attorney bills by the hour, he or she may set a minimum increment of time that results in a financial charge. For example, some attorneys use a 15-minute increment for billing. This means that if you place a five-minute call to your attorney, you will be billed for 15 minutes of his or her time. In some cases, a lawyer will instruct you to speak to his or her secretary or paralegal when possible to minimize these charges.Many lawyers require a retainer to begin work on your case. This is a large sum of money that you place as a deposit with your attorney. As your lawyer does work for you, he or she will deduct the hourly rate from your retainer. Find out how much a retainer your lawyer will require before you agree to work with him or her.Finally, ask about court and process serving costs. You will likely have to pay a fee to file a case in court, or to file a response to a court case in which you are named as a defendant. In addition, if you have to have documents served to a defendant, you will have to pay a Sheriff's deputy or private process server to do so. Your lawyer can give you an idea of what these costs may be.
- Specialization and BackgroundThere are several different types of lawyers, though all attorneys technically are able to practice in any area of law that they choose. Practically speaking, however, lawyers often choose to restrict their practice to certain areas of law. When you connect with a lawyer, ask about their experience in handling cases like yours. Incidentally, Names and Numbers organizes its Yellow Pages listings for lawyers by their preferred areas of practice so that you can easily find attorneys who can handle your case.
- ProfessionalismEven before you actually meet with a lawyer, it's a good idea to pay attention to your interactions with both the lawyer and his or her staff. Take note of how you are treated when you call. If you make your first contact via email, is the response polite, informative, and grammatically correct? How about response times? If there is an unreasonable delay in responding to your call or email, this can suggest disorganization or that the lawyer is too busy to give appropriate time to clients.
Setting up a Meeting with an Attorney
Once you've narrowed down your list of lawyers that you may want to hire, you'll want to set up a time for a face-to-face meeting. Sometimes, lawyers will offer you a free consultation, and other cases you'll be expected to compensate the attorney for his or her time.
Be sure to take notes during the meeting so that you'll be able to review the lawyer’s information when you are at home and more relaxed. If your legal issue is giving you a lot of stress, you may wish to bring a trusted friend or family member who can offer moral support and may be better able to pay attention to what the attorney tells you.
You don't have to commit to working with an attorney at the first meeting. If you need to take a few days to make a decision, do so. In fact, if you have a bad feeling about a lawyer or are concerned that your communication styles are incompatible, you may want to continue your search.