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WHAT IS AN ATTORNEY?
An attorney (also called lawyer, counsel, counselor, solicitor, or barrister) is a professionally trained and licensed individual who assists people with legal problems, often times preparing legal documents or representing people before courts and government agencies.
HOW DO I CHOOSE AN ATTORNEY?
The best method to find an attorney is to ask people you trust for a recommendation. You should then arrange a consultation with that lawyer. During the consultation you ask the questions you have and try to obtain specific information relative to your case. You should judge the prospective lawyer based upon his or her understanding of the law as it relates to your issue, but you should also determine if this is a person you feel comfortable working with. Think of it as an interview. You will want to discuss fees the attorneys will charge. How will fees be generated – on a flat fee, contingent fee, or hourly fee basis? If the fees are billed, what is that process? How much time does the attorney estimate it will take to resolve your matter?
IS THE CONSULTATION PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL?
Always know that the information you provide in the consultation is privileged communications and the attorney may not disclose that information. So, it is important to be as honest as possible when addressing facts or issues with the attorney, even if you have not retained them yet.
WHAT IF I CANNOT AFFORD AN ATTORNEY?
Generally, you will not know whether or not you can afford a lawyer until you have called a lawyer’s office or had an initial consultation with a lawyer. Don’t immediately assume that it will be too expensive until you have explored the options before you. If, after the consultation, you determine that you cannot afford it, ask the lawyer if he or she knows of any low cost options. Some areas of law can be handled through a legal aid service or a law school clinic.
CAN I REPRESENT MYSELF?
Beware that trying to handle legal problems if you are not an attorney can be risky. Everyone’s legal issue is unique and forms may not always take that into consideration. While there are many resources available to individuals, consulting with an attorney BEFORE trying to represent yourself is the best course of action.
WHAT IS MY ATTORNEY’S DUTY TO ME?
Your attorney’s principal duty is to see that you are given the benefit of all your legal rights. An attorney is sworn to conduct cases in an orderly way that will assure that they may be decided upon their merits. Your attorney may not make an agreement or incur any obligations that might substantially prejudice your interest, without our prior approval. Any settlement offers made by the other side must be communicated to you.
WHAT IS MY DUTY TO MY ATTORNEY?
You should give your attorney all the facts concerning your case and make a full and fair disclosure of the entire situation. In order to serve you well, your attorney must know not only the favorable facts but also those that may be unfavorable.
HOW ARE FEES CHARGED BY THE LAW OFFICE?
Money is always relevant concern when hiring an attorney. The fees charged by the attorney depend upon a variety of factors. In California, the law requires that any agreement that is expected to cost over $1,000.00, needs to be in writing. You should anticipate having to sign a contract agreement when authorizing an attorney to work for you. It should specify how you will pay and whether the agreement is for hourly rates, contingency fees, flat fees, or retainers. You should be given time to review the retainer agreement prior to signing and you should read your contract carefully prior to signing. You should also be provided with a copy for your records.
WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF FEE AGREEMENTS?
Flat Fees: The attorney provides a specific service for a specified set fee.
Contingency Fees: The attorney is paid only when money is collected for you, usually a percentage of the amount recovered. However, you will be expected to pay some cost “up front” such as filing fees, court cost and cost of discovery. These are common in personal injury and employment lawsuits.
Retainers and Hourly Fees: The attorney often will ask for a retainer, or advance payment, before working for you. Some retainers will be “non refundable” should you change your mind about proceeding with legal action, the law office still retains the fee. Hoffman & Hoffman does not utilize non-refundable retainers. You should receive an itemized statement listing services provided and fees charges on a regular basis, i.e. monthly.
WHAT DOCUMENTS SHOULD I TAKE WITH ME TO THE FIRST MEETING?
Be as organized as possible. If you have a complicated problem you may want to place different papers in different labeled folders to make documents easy to find. Make copies of papers that are important to your case. In most cases you will not be leaving your original documents with the attorney. Write down your questions before your visit.
In the consultation you should briefly outline your issues for the attorney and then ask the attorney for his/her advice. At this point the attorney may ask questions and/or wish to review your documents. Remember you and the attorney are on the same team. Be as truthful as possible. The conversation with the attorney is confidential.
WHAT ARE THE KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER ONCE I HIRE A LAWYER?
Anytime you call or meet with your lawyer be as prepared as possible. Make sure the lawyer has all necessary documents in a timely manner Write down your thoughts, concerns and issues beforehand.
Be honest. Make sure your attorney knows everything. Make sure that you are in agreement with the legal strategy before it is executed. Communicate your concerns and questions up front and then let your lawyer do their job.
Be efficient. Don’t make unnecessary phone calls to the attorney. Most lawyers charge for time spent on the phone with a client. Keep a list of all items you want to check with your lawyer and cover them in one phone call or ask them at your next scheduled appointment.
Be realistic. Understand that there are sometimes limitations on what an attorney can accomplish in a given situation within the law. Legal proceedings can be difficult, demanding and take a long time to resolve.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT AFTER I HIRE THE ATTORNEY?
Once you have hired an attorney, substantial and frequent contact with you is generally not needed. The fee that the attorney quotes usually assumes nominal contact. However, if you decide you would like to meet with your attorney to discuss the status of your case or new developments, call and make an appointment. In many cases, e-mail is an effective manner to communicate with the lawyer. But, like phone calls, you should expect to be charged for the attorneys time in reviewing and replying to your e-mails. Remember, most lawyers bill at a minimum amount, often 15 minute increments, so, when sending an e-mail, be efficient in asking more than one question at a time or the costs can add up greatly.