Suppose you need a lawyer. What should you consider when choosing one?
What are the duties and responsibilities of your attorney? What is your role?
Do you feel comfortable with the lawyer? It is important that you have full confidence in your attorney and be able to communicate with him or her.
To help people in consulting a lawyer, the American Bar Association has published a consumer information booklet, “The American Lawyer: When and How to Use One,” that is detailed and clearly written.
A recently revised version of the booklet says lawyers in private practice include many general practitioners who will handle any type of legal case, but observes that the “family lawyer” is becoming harder to find.
Most lawyers are likely to specialize in one or a few areas, the publication says, listing these areas of specialization:
- Domestic relations (representing clients in separation, annulment, divorce, and child custody matters).
- Criminal law (Defending those accused of crime).
- Personal injury (representing clients injured intentionally or negligently).
- Estate planning and administration (advising clients in property management, wills and probate matters).
- Real estate (representing clients in developing property, rezoning, and buying, selling or renting homes or other property).
- Taxation (advising clients in local, state and federal tax matters).
- Immigration (representing clients in citizenship and naturalization matters).
- Intellectual property law (representing clients in trademark, patent, and copyright matters).
The publication suggests some question you might want to ask when evaluation a
lawyer and deciding whether to hire him or her:
- “Ask about the lawyer’s experience and area of practice. How long has the lawyer or firm been practicing law? What kinds of legal problems are handled most often? Are most clients individuals or businesses?
- “Ask who will be working on your case. Will non-lawyers such as paralegals or law clerks be used in researching or preparing the case, and if so, will there be separate charges for their services? Who will be consulted in the lawyer is unsure about some aspects of your case? Will another lawyer or firm be recommended if this one is unable to handle your case?
- “Ask about fees and costs. 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 the bill be paid? Can the bill be paid in installments? Ask for a written statement of what will be charged.
- “Ask about possible outcomes of the case. Beware of any lawyer who guarantees a big settlement or assures a win in court. Remember that there are at least two sides to every legal issue, and many factors enter into how it will be resolved. Ask for the lawyer’s opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Will the case most likely be settled out of court or will it go to trial? What kind of experience does the lawyer have in trial work? If you lose at the trial, will the lawyers be willing to appeal the decision?
- “Ask about how you can participate. When you hire a lawyer, you are paying for his or her legal advice – he or she 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 answer your questions clearly and completely. Also ask what information you will be supplied. How, and how often, will the lawyer keep you informed about the progress of your case? Will you be sent copies of any of the documents that have to do with your case?
- “Ask about resolving potential problems. Find out whether the lawyer will agree to binding arbitration if a dispute arises between the two of you … By agreeing to binding arbitration, both the lawyer and client consent to present their cases to an outside panel and abide by its decision.”
Sometimes people expect too much of a lawyer. The ABA booklet says to keep in mind “that lawyers cannot work magic. No lawyer can be expected to win every case, and quite often the best legal advice may not be exactly what you want to hear.”
Nora Norris wrote this in 1987 which is still applicable today.
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