Choosing An Attorney

At times in life, everyone requires the services of a lawyer. But choosing a good one, and one that can help with your specific situation, can be a challenge. Here are some guidelines to help you when you need to enlist the services of an attorney. Follow these to increase your chances of having a pleasant experience with your legal matters.

Once you decide to speak with a lawyer, the next decision is which one. To help you decide whom to call, follow these suggestions:

  • Ask anyone you trust which lawyer(s) they use and if they do a good job
  • Search online resources for lawyers in your area and in the expertise you need
  • Contact local Bar Associations and ask for a lawyer referral
  • Search the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory at your library, which lists most lawyers and their area of practice
  • Ask other lawyers
  • Call local legal aid or public defender’s offices to see if you qualify for representation

Fees/Costs and Initial Consultation

After contacting your lawyers, ask whether they charge a fee for the first visit, and if so, how much. Ask for an estimated cost for services. Most lawyers will enter into a written agreement, listing the fees, costs and the nature and extent of representation. At your first meeting, find out how much they would charge to handle your case. Costs are different from fees. As the client, you are responsible for court costs and filing fees.

Also, get ready to discuss the facts and potential for any legal problems. Do not let lawyers overwhelm you. After all, they work for you.

Below are some question ideas, followed by a few expectations:

Q: Based on my situation, do I have a legal problem?

A: Explain your situation fully. At your first meeting, bring documents that may help explain the story. Make sure your attorneys cover both practical solutions as well as all your options available under the law. Do not exaggerate the facts. If you know, make sure you tell them the position taken by the opposing party.

Q: Can you help me? Is this something you handle routinely? If not, can you refer me to someone who does?

A: Discuss how much experience they have with similar cases. If the lawyers have doubts about handling your case, then ask for a referral. Also, discuss the outcome of those similar cases and if your quoted fees are in line with them.
Have them explain your legal problems fully—plus all legal fees and expenses that may be required—whether charged hourly or flat. Before agreeing, get an explanation of the fees in writing. Make sure you both sign it.

To help you understand lawyers’ fees better, see the definitions below:

  • Retainer Fee—Advance payment for a portion of his or her fee.
  • Fee—An agreed percentage of monies received through settlement, trial or negotiation
  • Hourly Fee—Their rate, multiplied by the number of hours (or portion of hours) spent on your case
  • Fixed Fee—A set amount of money for a specific service
  • Cost Advance—Advance payments for on-going expenses in your case
  • Mixed Fee—Combination of conditional and hourly fees

Q: How long has it taken you to conclude similar cases?

A: Ask if your case is more complicated than their previous cases, and if it may take longer to conclude. Plus, ask about any time restrictions for bringing an action. And find out what their best-case scenario might be regarding those restrictions. If there is no way to predict the length of time, then what are the reasons for that? Then, ask if there is anything you can do to speed up the process?

Q: What results can I expect? What do you expect to accomplish?

A: Ask whether your initial facts are enough to predict the results of the case. And have them explain the law as it relates to your case and the possible effects. It is extremely important that you both fully understand to the expected results. This will help you determine whether the cost and the time involved will be worth it.

The Expectation of the Client and Lawyer

Besides agreeing on expectations, you should know how your lawyer plans to achieve them—whether through settlement, mediation or trial. You have a right to expect a status report of the case, and know how frequently they will provide one.

The Communications Committee of the State Bar of Georgia prepared this pamphlet as a public service. It is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of law. Its purpose is to inform, not to advise on any specific legal problem. If you have specific questions regarding any matter contained in this pamphlet, you are encouraged to consult an attorney.

Thomas Bright is a longstanding Clearpoint blogger and student loan repayment aficionado who hopes that his writing can simplify complex subjects. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him hiking, running or reading philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter.

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