Q & A – Questions and Answers About Hiring An Attorney

1. What should I expect from a “good” attorney?

Though what constitutes a “good” attorney can be highly subjective, the longer your attorney has been in practice, the more experience he has to draw from.  Though younger, less experienced attorneys can be very well educated and skillful, there is also something to be said about the experience an attorney attains over the course of decades.  He will have likely dealt with a wide array of cases, client personality types, courts, judges and opposing attorneys.  These experiences typically develop the wisdom that you should want in a seasoned attorney. Your telephone calls, emails, etc. should be answered within a reasonable amount of time.  If your attorney is involved in a trial or other activities that are keeping him out of the office, then his assistant should get back in touch with you.  Regardless, you should expect that normally your attorney return your call in a day or two. Your attorney should educate you as to what your responsibility is and keep you involved in your case.  Though the legal process can be confusing, you should at least know what your role is during the course of your case.  Furthermore, your attorney should make himself reasonably available to answer any questions that you might have.  Keep in mind that attorneys (depending on the nature of the case) bill for their time.  Therefore, the more you speak to your attorney, the more you will be charged.

2. How much does it cost to hire an attorney?

The answer to that question varies greatly. Based upon the nature of the case, as well as the time invested in the case by the attorney and his staff, the cost can be very difficult to pinpoint. Most attorneys operate at a set hourly rate and bill by the amount of time they invest in a case. Some work done by an attorney (wills, contract review, etc) will likely be done for a flat rate. Therefore, you’ll know exactly how much your legal work will cost you, from beginning to end. Upon your initial consultation, and depending upon the nature of the case, an attorney might ask for a “retainer”. Typically, the retainer is a dollar amount to cover the initial costs involved in getting your case started (court costs, document filing fees and initial hourly fees). This is used in family law cases. While most experienced attorneys can estimate what certain types of cases will cost, they cannot predict how the opposing party and counsel will react. Nor can they predict how you will react to them. Family lawyers charge for their time – whether it is for phone calls, court appearances, document preparation or travel time. There are instances where no money would be required. For instance, most personal injury cases are taken on “contingency”. In this case, you agree to have the attorney take your case with the agreement that he take a percentage of the total settlement/judgment reached plus expenses. In exchange, the attorney and their staff will invest their time and expense to work towards reaching a settlement or litigate the case in court. In this case, you do not pay the attorney anything, as they will be absorbing the costs of the case, with the hope that the settlement/judgment will be sufficient to cover their costs.

3. I heard attorneys sometimes work for free, is that true?

In some instances, attorneys will work “pro bono”. In this type of situation, an attorney agrees to not charge for the time and work they invest in a case. Many times, these are special cases that are done for the less fortunate, charities or special needs clients. You are always welcome to inquire with an attorney as to your specific case and if they would be willing to work pro bono for you.

4. I don’t think I can afford to pay as much as it will cost, will you work with me?

This depends on the attorney. Be up front about your financial situation from the beginning. Ron is understanding of varying situations that might limit the ability of a client to pay the full retainer up front or the on-going legal fees. Often, he will work with these clients who might need to pay out a portion of their legal fees. This, of course, is done on a case by case basis.

5. Is it true that my attorney does all the work in my case after I hire them?

Though it is true that your attorney has their work cut out for them, you are still an essential asset to your own case. Regardless of the nature of your case, it is very important that you provide your attorney information and documents relevant and necessary to your case. Your attorney should provide clarification as to what type of information he deems necessary. It is also important that you aren’t “your own worst enemy”. Sometimes, especially in matters of family law, emotions run high and people are tempted to engage their ex-spouse in ways that are detrimental to their own case or the emotional well being of the children involved. Clearly understand what is expected, as a client, from your attorney. When in doubt, ask your attorney before you engage in any action which might be detrimental to your case.

6. Am I allowed to change attorneys if I don’t like the one I hired?

Hiring an attorney can be just like forming a relationship. They are often privy to very personal and private aspects of your life. Sometimes, clients perceive that the “relationship” is not serving the purposes of their individual case. In other circumstances, an attorney might not be as skilled as another attorney. Unfortunately, there are also circumstances where attorneys commit malpractice. Regardless of the situation, you are always allowed to choose another attorney. There are always misunderstandings and things that are beyond your knowledge of the law. Another attorney might advise you to stay with your current attorney, or they might suggest you retain a new attorney to represent your interests. Ultimately, an attorney works for you. Therefore, you are always allowed to choose the one with which you are the most comfortable with.

7. Does an attorney need to be “board certified” to practice in a particular area of law?

It is not necessary to be board certified to practice in any particular field of law. In fact, there are many successful and highly competent attorneys that are not board certified. The decision to seek out this certification is the sole decision of the attorney. All attorneys are required to participate in continuing legal education (CLE) each year. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Ron here.  We are always looking to address the common questions people have regarding the practice of law and legal representation.  We will add additional question and answers in the future.