Lawyers are experts in the law, so you can assume they know what they’re talking about, right? Well, not exactly. While they may have taken several classes in law school and have been practicing the law for years, lawyers aren’t infallible – at the end of the day, they’re still human beings like the rest of us who can make mistakes, too. Therefore, if you’re thinking about using a lawyer to help you with legal issues such as family matters or criminal defense cases, make sure you ask yourself these questions before making your final decision on which lawyer to hire.
Do I need to consult with a lawyer?
If you’re involved in any kind of legal dispute, for example, child custody, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. Some issues have time limits, so it could cost you more in terms of legal fees if you wait too long. In some cases, waiting can make things worse—you might lose certain rights if you don’t act quickly enough. It all depends on your specific situation and case; each individual has different needs and objectives for his or her case. Speak with a local attorney about what steps will work best for your particular needs.
How long will this take?
Clients often feel rushed when they visit with a lawyer, and that’s not a great way to start off your relationship. Keep in mind that lawyers spend years in school, passing exams and fighting for partnership in order to become an expert—and you’re just their next client. They might be tempted to rush you through your appointment as quickly as possible so they can move on to their next client.
To avoid being rushed, find out about your attorney’s availability for appointments and then book a time slot far enough away from other appointments that you don’t feel hurried or crowded. When it comes time for your meeting, be upfront about what kind of information you’re looking for and then make sure you get all of it before leaving.
If you have any follow-up questions after your meeting, call back and schedule another appointment at a later date. You may also want to consider having more than one consultation with different attorneys to make sure you’re getting all of your needs met.
Why did you recommend consulting with a lawyer?
If you’re talking with a lawyer, chances are something is wrong—maybe even really wrong. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it. When speaking with your attorney, try to be as forthcoming as possible about all aspects of your situation. In addition to who, what, when and where questions (which will determine liability), try asking why and how for deeper insight into your legal issue.
A why question will help determine what led up to a certain incident or problem, while a how question might help point out potential solutions moving forward. By engaging in thoughtful conversation with your attorney, you’ll be able to better understand your legal situation and develop an action plan based on solid advice. And if nothing else, these kinds of questions show that you care about getting things right before proceeding. That kind of clarity often leads to better outcomes in court down the road.
Do you prefer email or phone communication?
There’s an ongoing debate about whether email or phone is better for communicating with a lawyer. Some will tell you that a phone call has no substitute, while others claim email is just as effective as long as you follow up with a face-to-face discussion. Consider your lawyer’s individual style when choosing how to contact them.
Whichever option you choose, it’s important to remember that neither phone nor email communication can ever be considered confidential or privileged information. Never divulge sensitive personal information over these mediums; if you have anything super important to share, schedule an in-person meeting instead. The same goes for any document you send via email—it’s not safe until it reaches its intended recipient.
Will I pay anything up front?
In most cases, no. You’ll only pay fees at a later date. Lawyer fees can range from $200 per hour to more than $1,000 per hour. Usually an attorney’s hourly rate will be determined by his or her experience and credentials as well as how in-demand they are in their field (and of course, how complex your case is).
If you’re serious about hiring an attorney, it might be a good idea to get two or three quotes on your legal issue before making a decision. This will give you some leverage when negotiating their rates and may save you thousands of dollars in lawyer fees! How much do I have to pay?: There are two main types of payment options for attorneys:
contingency fee and flat fee. A contingency fee means that if you win your case, your lawyer gets paid out of any money awarded in damages. With a flat fee arrangement, however, there is usually a set price for every step of litigation that has been agreed upon beforehand with very little wiggle room. Generally speaking, attorneys charge more for taking court action than simply drafting documents such as wills or contracts because litigation can be so expensive; some states even limit what attorneys can charge their clients because they recognize that taking someone to court should not cost them everything they own.
Is there any risk if my case isn’t successful?
You should talk to your lawyer about their contingency fee (or no recovery, no fee) agreement. If you don’t succeed in your case, they won’t get paid. Ask them whether they have any arrangements with you if they do not win but still have time and resources invested in your case. If so, you may not be subject to all of those fees.
And remember, a lawyer may still choose not to take on a case if there is too much risk involved—in which case he or she will probably refer you to another lawyer who is willing and able to take it on. So before deciding on a lawyer, consider his or her history and expertise in your type of case.
In terms of how my case will progress: When asking how long something might take, remember that there are several factors that affect how long it takes for an attorney to handle your case. First, attorneys work at different speeds depending on their practice area, experience level and client base; these differences can make an enormous difference in turnaround times from attorney to attorney.
Do you accept clients from out of state or country?
While some attorneys will take cases out of state, most choose not to. If you don’t live in or near where your case is taking place, you may have difficulty scheduling meetings with your attorney, appearing in court and filing paperwork with legal authorities. Some attorneys may offer consultations over Skype or email if they can’t meet with you in person, but realize that getting a thorough understanding of your case could be difficult without spending time together.
For more information on hiring an attorney, check out FindLaw’s hiring a lawyer section. There you’ll find articles on things like evaluating how much an attorney costs and how to select an attorney for your needs. You can also browse their directory of attorneys by location and practice area.
Can I use your name as a reference should I wish to do so in the future?
In most cases, yes. It’s standard for references to be willing and able to vouch for you. Make sure you know whether it will be a positive or negative reference before signing any contracts with that lawyer. You should also make sure your potential reference knows what is expected of them should they agree to serve as a reference for you. Ask if they will confirm specific dates (start date, end date) and responsibilities that you held while working together. If you were an intern, were they involved in selecting projects for you to work on? If so, how many hours per week did you spend on each project? Did they write your resume and cover letter(s)?
If so, do they have copies of those documents? Did they help edit your portfolio materials (e.g., resumes, cover letters)? If so, do they have copies of those documents? Did they help prepare you for interviews with prospective employers/colleagues at their firm/organization/company/etc.? If so, how often did these sessions occur and how long did each session last?
A lawyer should not be afraid of a client asking them lots of questions. Ask away, and then determine whether or not you’re comfortable with your lawyer. If you have more questions after hiring a lawyer, continue asking as often as necessary – nothing is too small or trivial. This is your case and your life, so it’s important to make sure you understand all aspects of it.
The last thing you want is for your lawyer to take over control of something that could have been easily explained if he/she had taken a few minutes out of their day to sit down with you in person and explain things in detail. Lawyers aren’t mind readers, but they are professionals who can guide you through many different scenarios that may arise during your case.
Be involved! That’s what they’re there for! Your happiness will ultimately affect how well they do their job on your behalf, so get involved now and don’t be afraid to speak up when things aren’t clear or when something isn’t going well. The earlier these issues come up, the easier it will be for everyone involved to fix them before any problems become unmanageable!