Guide About Lawyers

Alternatives to Lawsuits

Q. I am considering filing a lawsuit against someone. Is there anything I can do to avoid
this?

A. Yes, you can try to negotiate. Before you even think of going to court, try to talk with the other
person in the dispute. Most potential suits are settled long before they go to court. The next chapter
discusses steps to take in settling your case.
You can also explore other low-cost, informal alternatives that probably exist in your
community–mediation, arbitration, and small claims court. The next chapter also provides practical
information about each of these options.
Sidebar: Listen to the Other Person
Keep an open mind to possible solutions and listen to the other person’s side of the story.
Remember that, with or without the help of lawyers, most people settle their legal disputes out of
court.

 

Q. I have already hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit. Is it too late to negotiate a
settlement?

A. No. It’s almost never too late to settle. Judges and lawyers encourage those involved in a
lawsuit to reach an agreement between themselves. If you reach an agreement after filing your case,
let the court know you have settled the matter, and the case will be removed from the court’s
calendar. If you have hired a lawyer, he or she should do this.
Sidebar: After You Settle
It is important to get your settlement in writing, and it is best if you and the other person involved
sign the final agreement. Suppose that, after filling a lawsuit, the two of you are able to work out the
main problem such as who owes how much to whom. It still may be necessary to appear before a
judge to determine a method or schedule of payment. It is usually best to get the advice of a lawyer
about any settlement before you put it into writing and sign it.

 

Q. Can my case be thrown out of court because it is too old?

A. Yes, every state has a time limit within which a case must be filed. The logic behind such limits,
called statutes of limitations, is that most lawsuits are more easily and more fairly resolved within a
short time. This is another reason that it is important to act as soon as you and your lawyer feel that
you may have a valid legal claim. The time limits vary for different types of cases.

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Guide About Lawyers

What to Do if Your Lawyer Does Not Satisfy You

 

Sidebar: Expectation About Your Lawyer
When you agree to hire a lawyer and that lawyer agrees to be your legal representative, a two-way
relationship begins in which you both have the same goal–to reach a satisfactory resolution to a
legal matter. To reach this end, each of you must act responsibly toward the other. In a
lawyer/client relationship, acting responsibly involves duties on both sides–and often involves some
hard work.
You have a right to expect competent representation from your lawyer. However, every
lawsuit has at least two sides. You cannot always blame your lawyer if your case does not turn out
the way you thought it would. If you are unhappy with your lawyer, it is important to determine the
reasons. If, after a realistic look, you still believe that you have a genuine complaint about your legal
representation, there are several things you can do. The accompanying questions and answers
discuss your alternatives.

 

Q. I lost my case, and I still had to pay my lawyer’s bill along with costs and expenses. I
am not very happy with my lawyer. What can I do?

A. First, talk with your lawyer. A lack of communication causes many problems. If your lawyer
appears to have acted improperly, or did not do something that you think he or she should have
done, talk with your lawyer about it. You may be satisfied once you understand the circumstances
better.

 

Q. I have tried to talk with my lawyer. However, my lawyer will not discuss it. Do I have
any alternatives?

A. Yes. If your lawyer is unwilling to discuss your complaints, consider taking your legal affairs to
another lawyer. You decide whom to hire (and fire) as your lawyer. When you fire a lawyer, you
may be charged a reasonable amount for the work already done. Most documents relating to the
case are yours–ask for them. In some states, however, a lawyer may have some rights to a file until
the client pays a reasonable amount for work done on the case.

 

Q. What if I feel that my lawyer has acted unethically?

A. How a lawyer should act, in both professional and private life, is controlled by the rules of
professional conduct in the state or states where he or she is licensed to practice. These rules are
usually by the state supreme court through its disciplinary board.
These codes consist of rules that describe generally how lawyers should strive to improve
the legal profession and uphold the laws. They also give more detailed rules of conduct for specific
situations (see below). If a lawyer’s conduct falls below the standards set out in the codes, he or
she can be disciplined by being “censured” or “reprimanded” (publicly or privately criticized),
“suspended” (having the license to practice law taken away for a certain time), or “disbarred”
(having the law license taken away indefinitely).
The law sets out punishments for anyone who breaks civil and criminal laws, and that
includes lawyers. But because of the special position of trust and confidence involved in a
lawyer/client relationship, lawyers may also be punished for things which are not unlawful–such as
telling others confidential information about a client or representing clients whose interests are in
conflict.

 


Q. What are some specific examples of the ethical duties of lawyers?

 

A. Among the highest responsibilities a lawyer has is his or her obligation to a client. A number of
strict rules and common sense guidelines define these responsibilities.
· Competence. This requires the lawyer’s ability to analyze legal issues; research and study
changing laws and legal trends; and otherwise represent the client effectively and professionally.
· Following the client’s decisions. A lawyer should advise a client of possible actions to be taken
in a case and then act according to the client’s choice of action–even if the lawyer might have
picked a different route. One of the few exceptions is a client asking for a lawyer’s help in
doing something illegal such as lying in court or in a legal document. In these cases, the lawyer
is required to inform the client of the legal effect of any planned wrongdoing and refuse to assist
with it.
· Diligence. Every lawyer must act carefully and in a timely manner in handling a client’s legal
problem. Unnecessary delays can often damage a case. If, because of overwork or any other
reason, a lawyer is unable to spend the required time and energy on a case, the lawyer should
refuse from the beginning to take the case.
· Communication. A lawyer must be able to communicate effectively with a client. When a client

asks for an explanation, the lawyer must provide it within a reasonable time. A lawyer must
inform a client about changes in a case caused by time and circumstances.
· Fees. The amount the lawyer charges for legal work must be reasonable, and the client should
be told the specifics of all charges.
· Confidentiality. With few exceptions, a lawyer may generally not tell anyone else what a client
reveals about a case. The reason for this strict rule is to enable a client to discuss case details
openly and honestly with a lawyer, even if those details reveal embarrassing or damaging
information about the client. A rule called the “attorney/client privilege” helps protect confidential
information from being disclosed. Ask your lawyer to explain the privilege to you.
· Conflicts of interest. A lawyer must be loyal to his or her client. This means that a lawyer
cannot represent two clients who are on opposite sides in the same or related lawsuits unless
both clients give permission. And ordinarily, there can be no representation of a client whose
interests would conflict with the lawyer’s interests. For example, a lawyer may not be involved
in writing a will for a client who leaves the lawyer money or property in that will.
· Keeping clients’ property. If a lawyer is holding a client’s money or property, it must be kept
safely and separately from the lawyer’s own funds and belongings. When a client asks for the
property, the lawyer must return it immediately and in good condition. The lawyer must also
keep careful records of money received for a client and, if asked, report that amount promptly
and accurately.

Sidebar: A Client’s Responsibilities
As in any successful relationship, a good lawyer/client relationship involves cooperation on both
sides. As a client, you should do all you can to make sure you get the best possible legal help. This
includes:
· Being honest. Be honest in telling all the facts to your lawyer. Remind yourself of important
points or questions by writing them down before talking with your lawyer.
· Notifying the lawyer of changes. Tell the lawyer promptly about any changes or new
information you learn which may affect your case. This responsibility is a broad one and covers
things from a change of your address or telephone number to letting your lawyer know if and
why you are unhappy with his or her work.
· Asking for clarification. If you have any questions or are confused about something in your
case, ask the lawyer for an explanation. This may go a long way toward putting your mind at
ease–and will also help your lawyer do a better job of handling your case.
· Being realistic. A lawyer can only handle your legal affairs. You may need the help of another
professional–banker, family counselor, accountant, or psychologist, for example–for problems
that have no “legal” solution. After you have hired a lawyer you trust, do not forget about that
trust. The lawyer’s judgments are based on experience and training. Also, keep in mind that
most legal matters cannot be resolved overnight. Give the system time to work.
· Paying. A client has the duty to promptly pay a fair and reasonable price for legal services. In
fact, when a client fails to pay, in some situations the lawyer may have the right to stop working
on the case. Still, the lawyer must then do whatever is reasonably possible to prevent the
client’s case from being harmed.
____________________________________________________________

 


 

Q. I am upset with the way my lawyer handled my case. Can I file a complaint?

A. Yes. As noted above, lawyers can be disciplined for violating ethical guidelines.

 

Q. Where can I file a complaint against my lawyer?

A. If you believe you have a valid complaint about how your lawyer has handled your case, inform
the organization that grants or withholds licenses to practice law in your state. Usually this is the
disciplinary board of the state supreme court. You’ll find it under the government listings for your
state. You can also obtain its location from the local bar association. In some states, the state bar association handles lawyer discipline. The board or the bar will
either investigate the complaint or refer you to someone who can help. If your complaint concerns
the amount your lawyer charged, you may be referred to a state or local bar association’s fee
arbitration service.
Making a complaint of this sort may punish the lawyer for misconduct, but it will probably
not help you recover any money. Filing a disciplinary complaint accusing your lawyer of unethical
conduct is a serious matter to the lawyer. Try to resolve any differences or disputes directly with
the lawyer before filing a complaint.
If you have a case pending that your lawyer has mishandled, be sure to also protect your
rights by taking steps to see that your case is now properly handled.

 

Q. Then how can I get money to compensate me for my lawyer’s misconduct?

A. You will have to file a malpractice suit against your lawyer. The discussion on medical
malpractice in the “Personal Injury” chapter will provide useful information on
malpractice in general.
You may also have the right to receive compensation from a client security fund (see below).

 

Q. My lawyer settled my case out of court and refuses to pay me my share of the
settlement. What can I do about it?

A. If you believe that your lawyer has taken or improperly kept money or property that belongs to
you, contact the state (or sometimes, local) “client security fund,” “client indemnity fund” or “client
assistance fund.” The state or local bar association or the state supreme court disciplinary board
can tell you how to contact the fund that serves you. Under any name, these funds may reimburse
clients if a court has found that their lawyer has defrauded them. Lawyers pay fees to maintain such
funds.

 

Q. If I am having a problem with my lawyer, is there any reason that I would want to call
the police?

A. Yes. If you believe that your lawyer has committed a crime such as stealing your money or
property, you should report that crime to the police. This is a last resort that should be taken only
when you feel certain of your position. However, if you are certain, do not feel intimidated because
your complaint is against a lawyer.

 

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Guide About Lawyers

Legal Fees and Expenses

 

Q. How can I be sure that my lawyer will not overcharge me?

A. The fee charged by a attorney should be reasonable from an objective point of view. The fee
should be tied to specific services rendered, time invested, and level of expertise provided.
There are some broad guidelines to help in evaluating whether a particular fee is
reasonable:
· the time and work required by the lawyer and any assistants, and the difficulty of the legal
issues presented;
· how much other lawyers in the area charge for similar work;
· the total value of the claim or settlement and the results of the case;
· whether the lawyer has worked for that client before;
· the lawyer’s experience, reputation, and ability; and
· the amount of other work the lawyer had to turn down to take on a particular case.

Sidebar: Talk About Fees
Although money is often a touchy subject in our society, fees and other charges should be
discussed with your lawyer early. You can avoid future problems by having a clear understanding
of the fees to be charged and getting that understanding in writing before any legal work has started. If the fee is to be charged on an hourly basis, insist on a complete itemized list and an
explanation of charges each time the lawyer bills you.
Legal advice is not cheap. A bill from a lawyer for preparing a one-page legal document or
providing basic advice may surprise some clients. Remember that when you hire a lawyer, you are
paying for his or her expertise and time.

 

Q. Someone said that I should ask my lawyer to use the billing method that is based on
contingent fees. What does this mean?

A. A client pays a contingent fees to a lawyer only if the lawyer handles a case successfully.
Lawyers and clients use this arrangement only in cases where money is being claimed–most often
in cases involving personal injury or workers’ compensation. Many states strictly forbid this billing
method in criminal cases and in most cases involving domestic (i.e., family) relations.
In a contingent fee arrangement, the lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage (often one
third) of the recovery, which is the amount finally paid to the client. If you win the case, the lawyer’s
fee comes out of the money awarded to you. If you lose, neither you nor the lawyer will get any
money, but you will not be required to pay your attorney for the work done on the case.
On the other hand, win or lose, you probably will have to pay court filing fees, the costs
related to deposing witnesses, and similar charges.
By entering into a contingent fee agreement, both you and your lawyer expect to collect
some unknown amount of money. Because many personal injury actions involve considerable and
often complicated investigation and work by a lawyer, this may be less expensive than paying an
hourly rate. You should clearly understand your options before entering into a contingency fee
agreement, which is a contract in itself.

 


Q. Are all contingent fee arrangements the same?

 

A. No. An important consideration is whether or not the lawyer deducts the costs and expenses
from the amount won before or after you pay the lawyer’s percentage.
Example: Joe hires Ernie Attorney to represent him, agreeing that Ernie will receive one third of
the final amount–in this case, $12,000. If Joe pays Ernie his fee before expenses, the fee will be
calculated as follows:
$12,000 Total amount recovered in case
-$4,000 One third for Ernie Attorney
$8,000 Balance
-2,100 Payment for expenses and costs
$5,900 Amount that Joe recovers
If Joe pays Ernie after other legal expenses and costs, the fee will be calculated as follows:
$12,000 Total amount recovered in case
– 2,100 Payment for expenses and costs
$9,900 Balance
-3,300 (One-third for Ernie Attorney)
$6,600 Amount that Joe recovers

The above figures show that Joe will collect an additional seven-hundred dollars if the agreement
provides that Ernie Attorney collects his share after Joe pays the other legal expenses.
Many lawyers prefer to be paid before they subtract the expenses, but the point is often
negotiable. Of course, these matters should be settled before you hire a lawyer. If you agree to pay
a contingent fee, your lawyer should provide a written explanation of this agreement that clearly
states how he or she will deduct costs.

 

Q. If my lawyer and I agree to a contingent fee arrangement, shouldn’t the method of
settling my case affect the amount of my lawyer’s fee?

A. Yes, but only if both of you agree beforehand. Lawyers settle most personal injury cases
through negotiations with insurance companies; such cases rarely require a trial in court. If the
lawyer settles the case before going to trial, this requires less legal work. You can try to negotiate
an agreement in which the lawyer accepts a lower percentage if he or she settles the case easily and
quickly or before a lawsuit is filed in court, though many good lawyers might not agree to those
terms.

 

Q. What billing method do most lawyers use?

A. The most common billing method is to charge a set amount for each hour of time the lawyer
works on your case. The method for determining what is a “reasonable” hourly fee depends on
several things. More experienced lawyers tend to charge more per hour than those with less
experience–but they also may take less time to do the same legal work. In addition, the same
lawyer will usually charge more for time spent in the courtroom than for hours spent in the office or
library.

Sidebar: Types of Fees and Expenses
The method used to charge fees is one of the things to consider in deciding if a fee is reasonable.
You should understand the different charging methods before you make any hiring decision. At
your first meeting, the lawyer should estimate how much the total case will cost and inform you of
the method he or she will use to charge for the work. As with any bill, you should not pay without
first getting an explanation for any charges you do not understand. Remember, not all costs can be
estimated exactly because of unforeseen developments during the course of your case.

 

Q. A friend suggested that I might want to have a lawyer “on retainer.” What does this
mean?

A. A retainer fee is a set amount of money paid regularly to make sure that a lawyer will be
available for any necessary legal service you might require. Businesses and people who routinely
have a lot of legal work use retainers. By paying a retainer, a client receives routine consultations
and general legal advice whenever needed. If a legal matter requires courtroom time or many hours
of work, the client may need to pay more than the retainer amount. Retainer agreements should
always be in writing.
Most people do not see a lawyer regularly and do not need to pay a retainer fee.
Sometimes, however, a lawyer will ask the client to pay some money in advance before any legal
work will be done. Although often called a “retainer,” this money is really a down payment that will
be applied toward the total fee billed.


 

Q. I saw an advertisement from a law firm that charges fixed fees for specific types of
work. What does this involve?

A. A fixed fee is the amount that will be charged for routine legal work. In a few situations, this
amount may be set by law or by the judge handling the case. Since advertising by lawyers is
becoming more popular, you are likely to see ads offering: “Simple Divorce–$150” or
“Bankruptcy–from $50.” Do not assume that these prices will be the amount of your final bill. The
advertised price often does not include court costs and other expenses.

 

Q. Does the lawyer’s billing method influence the other costs and expenses that I might
have to pay?

A. No. Some costs and expenses will be charged regardless of the billing method. The court
clerk’s office charges a fee for filing the complaint or petition that begins a legal action. The sheriff’s
office charges a fee for serving a legal summons. Your lawyer must pay for postage, copying
documents, telephone calls, and the advice or testimony of some types of expert witnesses such as
doctors. These expenses, often called “costs,” may not be part of a legal fee, and you may have to
pay them regardless of the fee arrangement you use. Your lawyer will usually pay these costs as
needed, billing you at regular intervals or at the close of your case.

 

Q. What are referral fees?

A. If you go to “Lawyer A,” he or she may be unable to help but refers you instead to “Lawyer B,”
at another law firm, who has more experience in handling your kind of case. In return for the
referral, Lawyer A will sometimes ask to be paid part of the total fee arrangement you pay to
Lawyer B. The law may prohibit this type of fee, especially if it increases the final amount to be
paid by a client. The ethical rules for lawyers in most states specify that two lawyers may not divide
a client’s fee unless:
1. the client knows about the arrangement;
2. both lawyers do some actual “work” on the case;
3. they divide the fee to show how much work each lawyer did; and
4. the total bill is reasonable.
If one lawyer refers you to another, ask whether there will be a referral fee and, if so, ask
about the specifics of the agreement between the lawyers.
Q. Should I “shop around” for the cheapest lawyer I can find?
A. With legal advice, as with other products and services, you often get what you pay for.
Although you should not expect to get good legal advice without paying for it, you should not pay
for anything that you don’t actually receive. After you and your lawyer have discussed fees, make
sure to follow through by examining each bill carefully. If you feel that any charge is too high or if
you do not understand a billed item, ask your lawyer to explain it before you pay.

 

 


 

Q. Is there anything I can do to reduce my legal costs?

A. Yes, there are several cost-cutting methods available to you. First, answer all your lawyer’s
questions fully and honestly. Not only will you feel better but you also will save on legal fees. If you
tell your lawyer all the facts as you know them, it will save time that might be spent on the particular
case and will help your lawyer do a better job.Remember that the ethics of the profession bind your lawyer to maintain in the strictest confidence almost anything you reveal during your private discussions. You should feel free to tell your lawyer the complete details in your case, even those that embarrass you. It is particularly important to tell your lawyer facts about your case that reflect poorly on you. These will almost certainly come out if your case goes to trial.

 

Q. Should I wait for my lawyer to say what he or she needs from me?

A. No, some things should be obvious to you. Before the first meeting with your lawyer, think
about your legal problem and how you would like it resolved. If your case involves other people,
write down their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Also jot down any specific facts or
dates you think might be important and any questions you want answered. Bring the information
with you to the first meeting, along with any relevant documents such as contracts or leases. By
being organized, you will save time and money.

 

Q. If something related to my case has occurred, should I wait until my next scheduled
meeting to tell my lawyer about it?

A. No, situations can vary from one day to the next. Tell your lawyer immediately of changes that
might be important to your case. It might mean that the lawyer will have to take a totally different
action–or no action at all–in your case. This could greatly affect your lawyer’s fee.

 

Q. Can I reduce my legal costs if I get more involved in my case?

A. Sometimes. Stay informed and ask for copies of important documents related to your case. Let
your lawyer know if you are willing to help out, such as by picking up or delivering documents or
by making a few telephone calls. You should not interfere with your lawyer’s work. However, you
might be able to move your case quicker, reduce your legal costs, and keep yourself better
informed by doing some of the work yourself. Discuss this with your lawyer.

 

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Guide About Lawyers

Questions to Ask a Lawyer

 

Q. How will I determine whether I want to hire a specific lawyer?

A. Many lawyers are willing to meet with you briefly without charge so the two of you can get
acquainted. During (or soon after) this first meeting, you can decide whether you want to hire that
lawyer. Many people feel nervous or intimidated when meeting lawyers, but remember that you are
the one doing the hiring, and what’s most important is that you are satisfied with what you’re getting
for your money. Before you make any hiring decisions, you might want to ask certain questions to
aid in your evaluation.

Sidebar: Have Faith
It is important that you trust the lawyer you hire, believing that he or she will do the best job
possible in protecting your legal rights. However, remember that lawyers cannot work magic. No
lawyer can be expected to win every case, and the best legal advice may turn out to be not exactly
what you wanted to hear.

 

Q. What sort of questions should I ask?

A. Ask about the lawyer’s experience and areas of practice. How long has the lawyer and the firm
been practicing law? What kinds of legal problems does the lawyer handle most often? Are most
clients individuals or businesses?

 

Q. Is it proper to ask the lawyer if anyone else will be working on my case?

A. Since you are the one paying the bill, it is well within your rights. Ask if nonlawyers, such as
paralegals or law clerks, will be used in researching or preparing the case. If so, will there be
separate charges for their services? Who will be consulted if the lawyer is unsure about some
aspects of your case? Will the lawyer recommend another attorney or firm if this one is unable to
handle your case?

 

Q. I met with a lawyer who referred me to another lawyer. Should I be angry?

A. Probably not. Occasionally, a lawyer will suggest that someone else in the same firm or an
outside lawyer handle your specific problem. Perhaps the original lawyer is too busy to give your
case the full attention it deserves. Maybe your problem requires another’s expertise. No one likes
to feel that a lawyer is shifting him or her to another attorney. However, most reassignments within
firms occur for a good reason. Do not hesitate to request a meeting with the new attorney to make
sure you are comfortable with him or her.

 

Q. What, in particular, should I ask about fees and costs?

A. How are fees charged–by the hour, by the case, or by the amount won? About how much
money will be required to handle the case from start to finish? When must you pay the bill? Can
you pay it in installments? Ask for a written statement showing specific services rendered and the
charge for each.

 


Q. When I first meet with my prospective lawyer, should I ask about the possible outcome
of the case?

 

A. Certainly, but beware of any lawyer who guarantees a big settlement or assures a victory in
court. Remember that there are at least two sides to every legal issue and many factors can affect
its resolution. Ask for the lawyer’s opinion of your case’s strengths and weaknesses. Will the
lawyer most likely settle your case out of court or is it likely that the case will go to trial? What are
the advantages and disadvantages of settlement? Of going to trial? What kind of experience does
the lawyer have in trial work? If you lose at the trial, will the lawyer be willing to appeal the
decision?

 

Q. Should I ask if and how I can help with my case?

A. Yes. It is often in your interest to participate actively in your case. When you hire a lawyer, you
are paying for legal advice. Your lawyer should make no major decision about whether and how to
go on with the case without your permission. Pay special attention to whether the lawyer seems
willing and able to explain the case to you and answers your questions clearly and completely. Also
ask what information will be supplied to you. How, and how often, will the lawyer keep you
informed about the progress of your case? Will the lawyer send you copies of any of the
documents that have to do with your case? Can you help keep fees down by gathering documents
or otherwise assisting the effort?

 

Q. During our first meeting, should I ask what will happen if the lawyer and I disagree?

A. Yes, your first meeting is the best time to ask about resolving potential problems. Find out if the
lawyer will agree to binding arbitration if a serious dispute arises between the two of you. Most
state bar associations have arbitration committees that, for a fee, will settle disputes that you and
your lawyer may have, say over expenses. By agreeing to binding arbitration, both you and the
lawyer consent to present your cases to an outside panel and abide by its decision.

 

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Guide About Lawyers

Looking for a Lawyer

 

Q. How do I go about choosing a lawyer?

 A. The lawyer will be helping you solve your problems, so you must feel comfortable enough to tell
him or her, honestly and completely, all the facts necessary to resolve your problem. No one you
listen to and nothing you read will tell you which particular lawyer will be the best for you; you must
judge that for yourself. Most lawyers will meet with you briefly to “get acquainted,” allowing you to
talk with your prospective lawyer before making a final hiring decision. In many cases, there is no
fee charged for an initial consultation. However, don’t assume that an initial consultation is free. To
be on the safe side, ask about fees before setting up your consultation appointment.

 

Q. Are there any practical considerations to keep in mind when choosing a lawyer?

A. Yes, the lawyer’s area of expertise and prior experience are important. Eighteen states have
specialization programs that certify lawyers as specialists in certain stated types of law. These states
are: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana,
Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,Tennessee and Texas In states without certification programs,
you may want to ask about your lawyer’s areas of concentration. You also may wish to ask about
the type of cases your lawyer generally handles.
Other considerations are the convenience of the lawyer’s office location, the amount of fees
charged, and the length of time a case may take. Although they are not always wise guidelines,
consider your personal preferences about the lawyer’s age, gender, and personality. These
preferences may guide you in locating someone with whom you feel most comfortable.

 

Q. Where should I start to look for a lawyer?

A. There are many sources for finding a reliable lawyer. Some of the best are recommendations
from a trusted friend, relatives, or business associates. Be aware that each legal case is different
and that a lawyer who is right for someone else may not suit you or your legal problem.

 

Q. Are advertisements a good place to look for a lawyer?

A. In some ways, yes, ads are useful. However, always be careful about believing everything you
read and hear–and nowhere is this more true than with advertisements. Still, newspaper, telephone
directory, radio, and television ads, along with direct mail, can make you familiar with the names of
lawyers who may be appropriate for your legal needs. Some ads also will help you determine a
lawyer’s area of expertise. Other ads will quote a fee or price range for handling a specific type of
“simple” case. Keep in mind that the lawyer may not be a “specialist” in the advertised field, and
that your case may not have a simple solution. If a lawyer quotes a fee, be certain you know
exactly what services the charge does and does not include.

 

 


 

Q. What about a local referral service?

A. Most communities have referral services to help the public find lawyers. These services
usually recommend a lawyer in the area to evaluate a situation–sometimes at a reduced cost.
Several services offer help to groups with unique characteristics, such as the elderly, immigrants,
victims of domestic violence, or persons with a disability. Bar associations in most communities
make referrals according to specific areas of law, helping you find a lawyer with the right
concentration. Many referral services also have competency requirements for lawyers who wish to
have referrals in a particular area of law.
Still, these services are not always a surefire way to find the “right” or even a “good” lawyer
for you, since some services make referrals without concern for the lawyer’s type or level of
experience. In the end, you must make your own decision in order to feel confident about your
selection. To contact a referral service, look in the telephone book’s yellow pages under “Lawyer
Referral Service,” or look under any local or state bar association listing.

 

Q. My new job offers a pre-paid legal services plan. What can I expect?

A. Legal services, like many other things, are often less expensive when bought in bulk. Employers,
labor and credit unions, and other groups have formed “legal insurance” plans. Many plans cover
most, if not all, the costs of legal consultation, document preparation, and court representation in
routine legal matters. Other programs cover only advice and consultation with a lawyer. Before
joining a legal plan, make sure you are familiar with its coverage and know whether you will be  required to make out-of-pocket contributions. These group plans follow the same pattern as group
or cooperative medical insurance plans. Employers or unions set up a fund to pay the employees’
legal fees, just as they contribute to group insurance plans to cover medical costs. Legal group
plans have become much more widespread in recent years. Some retail department stores and
credit card companies even offer such plans to their customers.

 

Q. I have heard about legal clinics, but I am not sure if I can use their services. What kind
of help do they offer?

A. Legal clinics primarily process routine, uncomplicated legal business. They generally use
standard forms and paralegal assistants. Paralegals are those who have received special basic legal
training and have learned skills through their jobs.
These clinics often charge less than traditional law firms for their services. They mainly work on wills, personal bankruptcy, divorces, and traffic offenses.

 

Q. I may want to hire a lawyer, but I do not have much money. Where can I find low-cost
legal help?

A. People do not have a right to a free lawyer in civil legal matters (they do in most criminal cases).
However, several legal assistance programs offer inexpensive or free legal services to those in
need. Most legal aid programs have special guidelines for eligibility, often based on where you live,
the size of your family, and your income. Some legal aid offices have their own staff lawyers, and
others operate with volunteer lawyers. To find free or reduced-cost legal services in your area, call
your bar association or county courthouse. You also may look in the telephone book’s yellow
pages under “Legal Aid,” “Legal Assistance,” or “Legal Services.” Sometimes the telephone book
will list a legal aid office under “Lawyers” or “Attorneys.”

 

Q. I have been accused of a crime, and I cannot afford a lawyer. What can I do?

A. If the government accuses you of committing a crime, the United States Constitution guarantees
you the right to be represented by a lawyer in any case in which you could be incarcerated for six
months or more. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge handling the case will either appoint a
private lawyer to represent you free of charge or the government’s public defender will handle your
case, also at no charge.

 

 


Q. Besides court-appointed defenders, is there any other form of government assistance
available?

 

A. Departments and agencies of both the state and federal governments often have staff lawyers
who can help the general public in limited situations, without charge. The United States Attorney’s
Office might be able to provide guidance about federal laws. It also might guide you to federal
agencies that deal with specific concerns, such as environmental protection problems and
discrimination in employment or housing.
The state attorney general also may provide guidance to the public on state laws, without
charge. Some states, for example, maintain consumer protection departments as a function of the
attorney general’s office.
Similarly, counties, cities, and townships often have staff lawyers who may provide the
public with guidance about local laws. Some of these local offices also offer consumer protection
assistance through their law departments. However, government lawyers may not, at the  government’s expense, advise or represent anyone in private legal matters.

 

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Guide About Lawyers

Areas of Legal Practice

 

Q. On what areas of practice do lawyers normally concentrate?

A. Most lawyers concentrate on one or a few specific areas, such as: domestic relations, criminal
law, personal injury, estate planning and administration, real estate, taxation, immigration, and
intellectual property law (see chart).

 

Areas of Legal Practice

 

Business Law :Advising about starting a new business (corporation, partnership, etc.), general corporate matters, business taxation, and mergers and acquisitions

 

Criminal Law : Defending or prosecuting those accused of committing acrimes

Domestic Relations :Representing individuals in separation, annulment, divorce,
and child custody matters

 

Estate Planning : Advising clients in property management, drawing wills,
probate, and estate planning

 

Immigration :Representing parties in proceedings involving naturalization
and citizenship

 

Intellectual Property Law :Dealing with issues concerning trademarks, copyright regulations, and patents

 

Labor Law :Advising and representing employers, unions and employees on questions of union organizing, workplace safety, and compliance with government regulations

 

Personal Injury :Representing clients injured intentionally or negligently, and
those with workers’ compensation claims

 

Real Estate :Assisting clients in developing property; re-zoning; and buying,
selling, or renting homes or other property

 

Taxation :Counseling businesss and individuals in local, state, and
federal tax matters

 

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Guide About Lawyers

Types of Lawyers

 

 

Q. Do lawyers normally work alone or do most of them work for companies or the
government?

A. About two thirds of all lawyers are in private practice; many others work for corporations or the
government. Firms of various sizes employ lawyers in private practice. Almost half of the lawyers in
private practice are sole practitioners who work alone. Others join with one or more lawyers in
partnerships. As the table shows, about a quarter of lawyers are in partnerships that have ten
lawyers or fewer.

 

Private Practitioners (1995)

Total practitioners: 634,475

Population/practitioner ratio: 410/1

 

Practitioners by Practice Setting and Sex

 

 

 


 

 

Q. How are lawyers split between rural and metropolitan areas?

A. 88 percent of American lawyers work in metropolitan areas, and about one third of all lawyers
work in large cities. Especially in rural areas and small cities, there are many general practitioners
who, by themselves or with the help of other lawyers, handle most types of cases. However, the
family lawyer/general practice lawyer is becoming harder to find.

 

Q. On what areas of practice do lawyers normally concentrate?

A. Most lawyers concentrate on one or a few specific areas, such as: domestic relations, criminal
law, personal injury, estate planning and administration, real estate, taxation, immigration, and
intellectual property law (see chart).

 

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