“I don’t know of any other industry, except the movie business, that has so many stars. Every lawyer thinks he’s special.”
If you are somehow sympathetic with this blog’s title, I have great news for you! “Lawyers and other Reptiles” is a book by Jess M. Brallier that shares many jokes about lawyers and the legal community. This is an entertaining and good read if you want a big laugh. I thought it was important to start with a funny introduction before we get into serious business. As I stated in my first blog, my perception is that If people have an idea of how things work in law, questions will be more specific, and answers can give a better understanding of future outcomes. I hope you are never a part of a major legal issue but if you are, here are some important tips to keep in mind when hiring a lawyer.
First, please make sure that you find a lawyer that specializes in your situation. Do some research in websites like Avvo and Lawyers.com, ask friends for recommendations or call your state bar office to ask for a referral. Once you find someone that meets your initial expectations, make an appointment and get ready to roll! Some lawyers offer initial free consultations, depending on the kind of case and others charge a fee between $100 and $500 or even more. Make sure you check the amount, so you don’t discover any surprises. Usually, consultations are an hour, so it is a good idea to write down all your questions beforehand to take advantage of your time at the appointment.
During your first appointment take notes and ask questions so you can decide if the lawyer is a good fit for your case. Make sure you ask questions about the process, the time, and potential outcomes. Understand that you are likely not going to become rich from a lawsuit and there are consequences for you as a plaintiff if your case ends up benefiting the defendant and vice versa. Legal matters are long and expensive, and a client should always weigh the best and the worse scenario as anything can and does happen. Now, if you decide to retain the lawyer, please make sure that you read, review and understand the retainer agreement. Did I say read, review, and understand the retainer agreement? It is the most important document that will govern your relationship with your lawyer. Many cases are billed at an hourly rate with an initial retainer and other cases are based on a contingency fee.
If your case is under a contingency agreement, there are no costs upfront and you and the lawyer will get paid after settlement or after trial. Usually, personal injury and medical malpractice cases fall under this category. The percentages are different between law firms but expect to pay at least 33% in attorney’s fees if your case settles before trial and 40% or more if your case goes to trial. Civil matters and family matters are usually under an hourly rate. Do yourself a favor and don’t call the lawyer 20 times a day! Every time a client calls there is a charge. Most of the firms I have worked for charge in 15-minute blocks, meaning if you speak with someone for 5 minutes you will get charged for 15 minutes.
Do the math, if you keep calling or emailing your initial retainer will disappear really fast and your bill will increase even faster. Every lawyer bills differently but keep in mind hourly rates are between $300 and up to $1000 per hour or more in some locales. Make sure you communicate with your lawyer when it is necessary and not just to say hello and ask what is going on. Law offices are usually very good at following up with clients, remember in order to build and defend the case they need you. Have you had a consultation with a lawyer? If so, how was your experience?