WHEN DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY?
Attorneys are trained legal professionals who can explain the laws to you; help you evaluate your options; negotiate or mediate conflicts with other people; prepare letters, court forms or other legal documents for you; and represent you in court.
SHOULD I HANDLE IT MYSELF?
There are a couple of questions that will help you decide whether you need to hire an attorney.
What is at stake? Is it my liberty, my livelihood, my home or property? If anything significant is at stake, it is usually a good idea to at least meet with an attorney to discuss your options.
The second question is, how complicated is this? Unfortunately, when it comes to the law, there are not very many things that are simple and easy to understand. Little mistakes in procedure or wording can seriously compromise your rights.
Many people hire attorneys for their advice and counsel all the time. They are thinking about a problem and are not sure how to proceed, so they make an appointment to discuss their options
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE?
- Organize your papers.
- Make copies of the most important papers to give to the attorney. Keep the originals yourself.
- If there are a lot of papers, you may want to make a summary sheet that includes important information such as account numbers. You may need to separate the papers into multiple file folders.
- Be prepared to briefly outline your problem for the attorney.
Write down your questions before you visit the attorney so that you will not forget to ask something important. Common questions you should ask:
- What is the time frame for your case or legal matter? Some cases have long periods of inactivity. If this is likely to happen to you, you need to know that and why.
- How often are you and your attorney likely to talk, and who will call the meeting?
- Will it be face-to-face contact, by mail or on the phone?
- If you are handicapped or have other limitations, be sure to alert the attorneys’ office at the time you are making the appointment so that appropriate accommodations can be made.
DO ATTORNEYS ALWAYS ACCEPT CASES?
The simple answer is no. There are many reasons why an attorney may need to decline your case. Below are a few of the common ones.
If the case does not meet the legal standard of a meritorious claim, attorneys cannot accept the case.
If the attorneys have a conflict of interest, if they have a relationship with the people or company on the other side of your problem, they cannot accept representation.
If the attorneys are not sufficiently knowledgeable or qualified to handle the problem, they are required to decline representation.
If you and the attorneys cannot agree on the scope and strategy of a case, they will decline to be involved. This includes the fundamental question of whether the legal fees to be expended are proportional to the likely outcome.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET TO THE ATTORNEYS’ OFFICE?
Be prepared to briefly outline your problem for the attorney, and be sure to bring copies of important papers.
The attorney will usually talk to you about several different ways to approach your problem, which vary in price, possible outcomes and time.
They will also tell you about themselves, so that you have an appreciation of their experience in handling your type of problem.
Be sure to discuss fees. If you decide to hire the attorneys, they will usually have you sign a fee agreement that outlines the hourly rate, the retainer or advance, related expenses etc. Personal injury cases are frequently handled on a contingency basis, (the attorney will get a percentage of the award, plus litigation expenses).
Most other matters are priced based on the amount of time they will take.
If a fee agreement is not offered to you, you can ask for one. This can prevent confusion later.
In litigation such as divorce, the advance may not be adequate to resolve the problem. Ask the attorneys to estimate what they think the possible range in costs could be. If you do not understand the fee agreement, the attorney will be happy to explain it to you. In general, the more contact you have with your attorney, whether by phone or in person, the higher the fee. So the goal is usually to have as few meetings as are necessary to stay within your budget.
HOW DO ATTORNEYS WORK?
Attorneys are officers of the court; they take an oath to uphold the law. They are ethically bound to zealously represent their clients within the bounds of the law. An attorney would have to decline a case if the client wanted him or her to do something that is outside the law such as allowing him or her or a witness to commit perjury.
The attorney is responsible for the management of the case or legal matter. One of the hardest things for the attorney to manage is credibility. Your attorney never wants to take positions on your behalf, which he or she cannot realistically defend. Your attorney may recommend that certain issues not be raised or witnesses called, because they cause more problems than they solve.
Your lawyer will explain your options to you and ask which you prefer. Once you have chosen a goal with your lawyer, your lawyer is then responsible for determining how to best pursue that goal. There will be conversations with the opposing side, and with the judge. You will not be involved in many of these conversations. After the discussions have taken place, your lawyer will advise you as to your possibilities.
Therefore, it is important that when you select your lawyers, you should have confidence in their ability and integrity to do the best they can.
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