Working with a Lawyer
You may want to hire a lawyer if you have a legal problem and do not know how to solve it. Lawyers have been specially trained in the law and our legal system, so the right lawyer can advise and assist you with your particular problem.
- If you are facing criminal charges or a lawsuit, for example, a lawyer can help you understand your rights, and the strengths and weaknesses of your case. A lawyer knows the rules and procedures for arguing the case in court. And a lawyer can make a big difference in whether or not your side of the story is successfully presented to a judge or jury.
- A lawyer can help you get a divorce, file for bankruptcy or draw up a will. Or, if you have been seriously injured or mistreated, a lawyer can help you file a lawsuit. Some lawyers handle a variety of legal problems; others specialize in certain areas of the law.
There are lots of ways to find a lawyer who is right for you.
- Recommendations. Ask your friends, co-workers and employers if they know any lawyers who have experience with the type of problem you have.
- Certified lawyer referral services. You could call your local county bar association, which will probably have a lawyer referral service.
- Advertisements. Most lawyers choose not to advertise, but some lawyers do. Sometimes lawyers join together and advertise their services as a group.
- Free legal aid agencies. If you can't afford a lawyer, you may be able to get free or low-cost legal help in non-criminal cases from a legal services program. This will depend on your income and the nature of your legal problem. Check the white pages of your phone book to see if such an organization is located near you.
Hiring a lawyer
Before you meet with any lawyers, do some "comparison shopping." Call several lawyers and ask questions that might help you make your decision. Write down everything that the lawyers have to say. Take time to think it over. Then make another appointment with the lawyer who seems right for you.
When you do meet with a lawyer, find out how long he or she expects your case to take, what steps will be involved, and what and how you will be charged. If you don't understand something, ask for a simpler explanation.
Ask yourself a few questions:
- Will you be comfortable working closely with the lawyer?
- Do you think the lawyer has the experience and skill to handle your case?
- Do you understand the lawyer's explanation of what your case involves?
- Does the fee seem reasonable?
In some cases, limited representation - hiring an attorney who will assist you at particular stages of your case - may work for you. However, not all attorneys will work solely on portions of a case. Or, if they do, they will not take on the responsibility for overseeing your case. The limitations of the representation are set by agreement.
You and your lawyer should agree on what you will pay the lawyer and what services will be provided. This way, both of you will know what to expect from each other.
Here are a few key questions:
- How will the lawyer bill for his or her time?
- Who else will be working on the case - associate lawyer, legal assistant, paralegal? How will their work be billed?
- What can be done to reduce fees and costs?
- What is the lawyer's estimate of the total charges?
- How will costs as opposed to fees be paid? (Costs include telephone calls, photocopying, secretarial help, court fees, travel expenses, and so on.)
Make sure you understand the agreement before you sign it. If you are not comfortable with any of the terms, don't sign it. And if you can't work out your disagreement, you may want to find a new lawyer.
To have a successful lawyer-client team, make sure that:
- You and your lawyer have the same goals.
- You understand and are comfortable with the lawyer's working style. Get a clear picture of the expected timetable in your case - when you can expect significant developments, and when and how often the lawyer intends to contact you.
- You provide the lawyer with the information and documents necessary to understand your case.
- You understand and agree with the lawyer's billing practices.
If you have questions or concerns about your legal matter, talk to the lawyer about them and listen to his or her responses. If you are still not clear about what is going on, many local bar associations have client relations programs that assist clients communication effectively with their lawyers.
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