Unless you have had to hire a lawyer in the past, you may find yourself wondering, “How do I hire an attorney?” This is a good an important question. The article below addresses some of the key points that often need clarification for first-time clients.
First, do I need to hire a lawyer?
This is often the first question so we will start here. The answer always depends on the particular legal matter as well as your knowledge of and ability to navigate legal processes. Generally, if you are asking whether you need a lawyer, you should at least consult with one. Some firms may offer consultation services for a nominal fee to help you better determine your situation before actually hiring a lawyer. Our firm offers this service.
How do I choose an attorney?
There is no easy answer to this question, but here are some tips. No two attorneys or law offices are the same. One lawyer may be highly specialized in a particular area of the law, for example, federal securities law defense. Another attorney may handle cases in various areas of the law that affect the everyday person. Common examples include criminal cases, custody and divorce cases, and car wrecks. Your particular legal situation will help to determine what type of attorney you seek to hire.
Law firms vary greatly in regard to attorney fees charged for representation. The type of legal matter is often a large factor attorneys use to determines legal fees. Is your matter urgent and one that will take a large part of an attorney’s time? Or, do you need simple documents drafted and have at least thirty days before you will need them? Your budget for legal services will also determine the attorney or law firm you hire.
Remember that lawyers are people too. You want to feel comfortable with your attorney and able to communicate freely for a best experience. Generally speaking, a best attorney-client relationship is built on honesty and trust between the attorney and the client. You may need to contact several law offices before you find an attorney you might want to work with. It is great to visit law firm’s website in order to be better prepared before you contact the firm.
What ethical rules are attorneys required to follow?
While no two attorneys or law firms are completely alike, there are general rules of ethics that licensed attorneys must follow. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct are the general standard for attorney conduct in the U.S. States and other jurisdictions modify these rules and govern attorneys within that jurisdiction accordingly. Lawyers who do not follow the rules of ethics may be disciplined by their governing body.
Couldn’t I just use an online form as my legal document?
Rarely is anyone obligated to hire a lawyer to create common legal documents, but that does not mean that they shouldn’t hire one. Yes, there are tons of legal forms and advice blogs available online these days and, yes, people use these every day. Unfortunately, these forms often are not state specific or they contain old law and language. Even more unfortunate, people tend not to know about these defects until legal trouble arrives and it is too late. It almost always costs more time and money to fix a legal mistake than it would have taken to have it done correctly in the first place. Before using any legal form, be sure that it is a proper form for your jurisdiction and your legal goal.
How will I communicate with my attorney?
Your attorney should have several options available for communication with clients. At our firm, clients enjoy the option of cloud-based, paperless communication options including a client portal through which clients can exchange messages with attorneys and staff, view documents within their electronic client file, make payments, and stay abreast of future meetings and court dates regarding their matters. We also utilize traditional email, phone and mail carrier services to keep clients informed according to the individual client’s preferences. These are all the most common ways attorneys communicate with their clients.
What if I cannot come to the office (I am homebound or am too far away)?
You may not be able to jump in the car and drive over to a lawyer’s office. Some clients are severely disabled or live hours away from the particular lawyer they wish to hire. Technology has made handling these types of matters easier than ever. At our firm, we are still able to provide legal counsel in most of these circumstances through our client portal and even more traditional forms of communication. Please contact us directly about your particular situation.
What forms of payment are generally accepted?
Most law offices accept traditional forms of payment including cash, check, or money order. Many, like our office, also accept credit/ debit card and electronic check (ACH payment) methods through secure payment portals.
What is a retainer and what is it for?
A retainer is an agreed to amount of money that is paid to the attorney in order for the attorney begin work on your behalf. Generally, the attorney will then bill against the client’s retainer for services and costs associated with the client’s legal matter. Attorneys often require that the retainer balance remain over a minimum balance. Additionally, businesses or high profile clients who want a legal team or consultant to be only a phone call or email away often pay the attorney on a recurring schedule for that privilege. This is often called keeping the attorney “on retainer.” Retainers are an element of the fees and costs associated with a legal matter although not all attorneys use them. Retainer requirements should be discussed and understood before hiring legal counsel and should be in writing.
What are attorney fees exactly?
An attorney’s fee is the fee charged for the attorney performing work on your matter and is usually separate from the “costs” of your matter. The attorney’s fee is usually an hourly rate, flat fee, contingency fee, or a combination of these methods. The fee is based upon a calculation of the time required to complete work on your behalf as well as the hidden costs of that work getting done. Such hidden costs include office overhead and staff, licensing and education requirements, and all of the other necessities of maintaining a law office business.
What are the “costs” associated with my matter?
The costs of a legal matter are the various costs of different items within your legal matter. Examples are filing fees, depositions, official transcripts, expert witness fees, printing and copying, travel, and mailing.
How long will my legal matter take? It’s an open and shut case, right?
In reality, legal matters vary greatly by the legal topic, issue complexity, the court (jurisdiction) it is in, the parties involved, and the facts specific to the particular legal situation along with other variables. Rarely is a case open and shut if there is a lawyer representing the other side. Just like you want someone to zealously represent you, the lawyer on the other side has been hired to do the same for his or her client. Each side believes that it is right and neither side’s lawyer is likely going to give in easily, if at all. You and your attorney should assess the difficulty of your matter and, from there, estimate the time and expense required. That way both you and your attorney understand the goal of your legal representation and the expectations while getting there.
What does attorney-client privilege mean?
The attorney-client privilege is the protection of the communications between clients and their attorneys. The purpose of the rule is to allow and encourage clients to speak freely with their attorney so that the attorney can best provide legal counsel. Trust and honesty are essential for a best attorney-client relationship. There are exceptions to this privilege as well as ways by which a client or potential client can waive the privilege. Consult with an attorney for further details.
Hopefully this short Q & A article has answered a question or two for you when it comes to the question: “How do I hire a lawyer”? You can always find us at www.JagersJohnsonLaw.com and we will be glad to help.