How do I hire a lawyer?
Lawyers are highly-trained professionals who counsel individuals and businesses in a full range of personal and corporate legal matters. Many business transactions have legal implications, so you should try to find a lawyer whom you can treat as a trusted advisor. These questions are designed to help you choose the right lawyer for your situation.
What can a lawyer do for me?
Lawyers provide legal guidance. This doesn't mean that they can make your decisions for you. A lawyer should identify legal issues of concern to you, tell you what the law says about these issues, and advise you on how to address them.
When do you need a lawyer?
The recommended approach is to seek the advice of a lawyer whenever a legal issue arises. Since it is not always clear when that happens, many problems are solved without resorting to lawyers. When an issue arises, you must first decide whether you need a lawyer at all. In order to know if you should solve your problem on your own, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What are the consequences if you are unsuccessful?
2. How complex is the law in your situation?
3. Do you have the time and energy?
If you are still unsure, some outside professionals, advisors or para-professionals may be useful:
Public libraries, legal aid services, student legal services, small claims courts, reading self-help books and other resources such as books, pamphlets and videos.
What should I ask a lawyer?
At the first meeting you should ask:
what experience the lawyer has in your type of legal matter
for a preliminary outline of how the lawyer believes the case should be handled and the time frame for its completion
if the lawyer carries malpractice insurance
how you can or will be expected to participate in your case
how you will be kept informed about the status of the matter
if the lawyer will provide you with a fee agreement that details fees, expenses, billing and payment
for the lawyer's hourly fee (if applicable)
for an estimate of the lawyer's total fee
Keep in mind, some lawyers charge for your first consultation, some don't.
After meeting with the lawyer ask yourself if you:
will be comfortable working closely with this person
are confident that the lawyer has the experience and skill to handle your case
understand the lawyer's explanation of what your case involves
understand the proposed fee agreement
How will I pay a lawyer?
Fixed fee: This type of charge, sometimes called a “standard” fee, is used most often for routine legal matters. For example, a lawyer may charge all clients the same amount to handle a “simple will.” When you agree to a fixed fee, be sure you know what it does and does not include and if there could be additional charges.
Hourly fee: Many lawyers charge by the hour and the hourly rate varies from lawyer to lawyer. Your total bill can be estimated by having the lawyer project the amount of time your case will take and provide a list of filing fees and other costs.
Retainer fee: A retainer fee may be used to guarantee that a lawyer will be available to take a particular case and could mean that the lawyer would have to turn down other cases in order to remain available. With this type of fee agreement, you may be billed separately for the legal work that is done. A retainer fee sometimes is considered a down payment on any legal services you may need. Since this type of fee arrangement can mean different things, be sure to have the lawyer explain the fee arrangement.
Contingency fee: This type of charge often is used in personal injury cases when you are suing someone for money. It means that you will pay your lawyer a certain percentage of the money you receive if you win the case or if you settle the matter. If you lose, your lawyer doesn't receive a fee. In some cases, your lawyer may pay some of these costs for you when they are due, but you may have to repay the lawyer.
If you agree to a contingency fee, be sure you know what your lawyer's percentage will be. Some agreements provide for a varying percentage depending on whether the case is settled, goes to trial or has to be appealed. If so, those varying percentages must be stated in the agreement as well. While obtaining a fee agreement from your lawyer is always a good idea, in contingency fee cases, they are required.
Statutory fee: The cost of some probate and other legal work is set by law. For certain other legal problems, the court either sets or must approve the fee you will pay.
Often, a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge will be, because it is difficult to estimate how much work is going to be involved. But a lawyer can usually estimate the minimum and maximum limits of the fee and give you some idea of the work involved.