In order to provide some guidance regarding hiring a lawyer , we have provided general information from The American Bar Association . Not everyone has experience with the legal system. Sometimes, those that do have been left with sour feelings. We encourage you to “shop around” for a lawyer that suits your needs but, also, to find one with whom you feel comfortable. It is our opinion that a lawyer should never discuss fees before discussing your case.
I think I might benefit from speaking to a lawyer, but I don’t think I have a current legal dispute. Does this mean I shouldn’t get an attorney?
No. In fact, lawyers often help clients in matters that have nothing to do with disputes. For example, people might seek their lawyer’s advice on legal aspects of starting a business or engaging in a partnership, when buying or selling a home, or for information and advice on tax matters or estate planning. Some clients receive regular legal checkups that, like medical checkups, are designed to catch problems early or prevent them altogether.
I understand that going to a lawyer may be unnecessary under certain circumstances. Are there specific cases when I should see a lawyer?
Yes, some matters are best handled by a lawyer. While these matters are sometimes hard to recognize, nearly everyone agrees that you should talk with a lawyer about major life events or changes, which might include:
If I do not use a lawyer, who else can help me?
There are many ways to solve a grievance without resorting to lawyers. If you believe a business has cheated you, you may get help from a consumer protection agency run by your city, county, state, or federal government. Many businesses, stores, and utility companies have their own departments to help resolve consumer complaints. Some communities have an ombudsman, a government official whose job is to mediate and resolve minor landlord/tenant, consumer, or employment issues. Local television and radio stations may have programs to resolve consumer-related disputes.
Most states also have dispute resolution centers. These centers, which may be known as neighborhood justice centers or citizens’ dispute settlement programs, specialize in helping people who have common problems and disputes. Their services are often available for a small fee, or even at no cost.
Can counseling solve some problems?
Yes. Sometimes problems that seem to be “legal” may be solved or prevented by other means. Many groups offer guidance and counseling for personal problems arising in marriage, child rearing, and managing finances. Private counselors or members of the clergy also may provide such help.
What is a small-claims court?
A small-claims court is a streamlined forum in which people can air their dispute and have a judge decide it promptly. Most states have procedures that allow people to represent themselves in small-claims court if the total amount of their claim is under a certain dollar amount. In Florida disputes in the amount of $8,000.00 or less (excluding filing costs, interest, and attorneys’ fees) may be filed and resolved in small claims court. The cost is minimal, procedures are relatively simple, and there is usually little delay. Keep small-claims courts in mind if your problem is not very complicated and your losses are relatively small.
For what kind of matters do Americans tend to see a lawyer?
There are many reasons that an individual might consult a lawyer. Some of the most common legal matters taken to lawyers involved:
Other fairly common matters requiring a lawyer’s help included traffic matters, insurance claims, bankruptcy, auto accidents, and being a complainant or defendant in a criminal proceeding.
Should I save money and wait until I absolutely need the lawyer's services?
No. An ounce of prevention is worth many dollars and anxious hours of cure. Once you have determined that you need professional legal help, get it promptly. You can get the most help if you are in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible.
What exactly is a lawyer?
A lawyer (also called attorney, counsel, or counselor) is a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters. Today’s lawyer can be young or old, male or female. Nearly one-third of all lawyers are under thirty-five years old. Almost half of the law students today are women, and women may ultimately be as numerous in the profession as men.
I come from another country, and I need to hire a lawyer. Are notaries public lawyers?
A “notary public,” an “accountant,” or a “certified public accountant” is not necessarily a lawyer. Do not assume that titles such as notary public mean the same thing as similar terms in your own language. In some countries, a lawyer is called a “barrister” or a “solicitor.”
What are a lawyer’s main duties?
A lawyer has two main duties: to uphold the law while also protecting a client’s rights. To carry out these duties, a lawyer should understand the law and be an effective communicator.
Is most of a lawyer’s time spent in court?
No. Most lawyers normally spend more time in an office than in a courtroom. The practice of law most often involves researching legal developments, investigating facts, writing and preparing legal documents, giving advice, and settling disputes.
What are the professional requirements for becoming a lawyer?
To understand how laws and the legal system work, lawyers must go through special schooling. Each state has enacted standards that must be met before a person is licensed to practice law there. Before being allowed to practice law in most states, a person must:
Once licensed in one state, is a lawyer allowed to practice law in all states?
Not automatically. To become licensed in more than one state, a lawyer must usually comply with each state’s bar admission requirements. Some states, however, permit licensed out-of-state lawyers to practice law if they have done so in another state for several years and the new state’s highest court approves them. Many states also have provisions for lawyers to participate in specific cases in states where they are not licensed. The lawyer in such a case is said to be appearing pro hoc vice, which means “for this one particular occasion.”
If I have a legal problem, do I have to hire a lawyer?
Not necessarily – you may represent yourself. And, in some specialized situations, such as bringing a complaint before a government agency (for example, a dispute over Social Security or Medicare benefits), nonlawyers or paralegals may be qualified to represent you. (Paralegals are nonlawyers who have received training that enables them to assist lawyers in a number of tasks; they typically cannot represent clients in court.) If you are in this situation, ask the government agency involved what types of legal representatives are acceptable.
There are many matters you can deal with yourself, if you know how to go about it. For example, you can represent yourself in traffic or small-claims court, or engage in negotiations and enter into contracts on your own. But if you are not sure about the consequences of your actions or are uncertain about how to proceed, getting some quick legal advice from a lawyer could be very helpful in preventing problems down the road.
Why does it sound like lawyers speak and write in a totally different language?
Lawyers and others trained in the law often use legal terms as shorthand to express complicated ideas or principles. These words and phrases, many rooted in Latin, are often jokingly referred to as a foreign language—legalese. Although some legalese may be necessary in order to communicate certain ideas precisely, a document that is understood by very few of its readers is just plain poor communication.
Since 1978, federal regulations are required to be “written in plain English and understandable to those who must comply” with them. Many states also have laws requiring that insurance policies, leases, and consumer contracts be written in plain English. Of particular importance is the trend in law schools to discourage the use of legalese and to encourage the use of plain, comprehensible English.
The lawyer will be helping you solve your problems, so the first qualification is that 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 be able to guarantee that a particular lawyer will be the best for you; you must judge that for yourself.
Yes, the lawyer’s area of expertise and prior experience are important. Many states have specialization programs that certify lawyers as specialists in certain types of law. Some legal specialties also have created their own certification programs, such as the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils, and the National Elder Law Foundation. You may also wish to ask about the type of cases your lawyer generally handles. What is the breakdown of that lawyer's practice (e.g. 50 percent personal injury cases, 25 percent divorce cases and 25 percent "other.") Keep in mind that most lawyers are not certified in a specialty, but that does not necessarily mean that a specific lawyer is not an expert in a specific field, particularly where a lawyer handles a high volume of cases in a particular practice area.
Other considerations are the convenience of the lawyer’s office location, fees charged, and the length of time a case may take.
There are many ways to find a reliable lawyer. One of the best is a recommendation from a trusted friend, relative, or business associate. Be aware, however, that each legal case is different and that a lawyer who is right for someone else may not suit you or your legal problem.
In some ways, yes, ads are useful. However, always be careful about believing everything you read and hear—and nowhere is this truer than with advertisements. Newspaper, telephone directory, radio, television, and Internet 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 your case may not have a simple solution. If a lawyer quotes a fee, be certain you know exactly what services and expenses the charge does and does not include.
Most communities have referral services to help people find lawyers. You might be able to find them under “Lawyer Referral Service” or something similar in your yellow pages. These services usually recommend a lawyer in the area to evaluate a situation. 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 experience and practice concentration. Many referral services also have competency requirements for lawyers who wish to have referrals in a particular area of law. You can find your local bar association in the phone book’s white pages either under your community’s name (“Centerville Bar Association”) or under your county’s name (“Cass County Bar Association”). You can also find your bar’s website through your favorite search engine, or through the ABA's interactive state-by-state lawyer-referral directory. Still, these services are not a surefire way to find the best lawyer or the right lawyer for you. Some services make referrals without concern for the lawyer’s type or level of experience. You may want to seek out a lawyer referral service that participates in the American Bar Association-sponsored certification program, which uses a logo to identify lawyer referral programs that comply with certain quality standards developed by the ABA.