FAQ’s - Working With Your Attorney


It can be nerve wrecking and confusing when deciding to hire an attorney and moreover, who to hire?   Maybe you don’t know whether you need to hire an attorney.   Most of the time, an attorney is the person who can give you that very answer. Many people believe that they cannot afford an attorney when they really can afford one.  This illusory thought may come from watching too much television or reading about rare sensational cases in the news that highlight large attorney fees.  Here are some frequently asked questions with my answers! 


How Do I Find the Right Attorney?


Attorneys advertise in many mediums.   You can find them on websites (like this fine one), in the telephone book, newspapers, by word of mouth and through the state bar’s lawyer referral service.   Look for someone who has a number of years of reputable experience in the area in which you need help.  For example, bankruptcy, disability, taxes, and workers compensation are rather complex areas of law while it is not necessary that you hire a specialist, you do want someone who has actual experience in that practice area.  The level of experience that you need depends upon the service that you need.  For example, you may not need a seasoned litigation lawyer to handle basic matters like a Simple Will, Power of Attorney or an uncontested divorce.  The more complex the matter, the more expertise you should demand. 


Once you identify the attorney, and you are still unsure, ask around.   People are eager to tell you when they have had a good experience or a bad experience with someone.


Don’t be afraid to ask the attorney about their experience for the type of matter you need handling.   I will be happy to tell you about my background and experience.  Just ask.


When Should I Meet With An Attorney?


You should meet with an attorney as soon as you have an inkling that you need an attorney.   Often times, failing to get an attorney is far more expensive than taking immediate action and hiring one.  A consultation with an attorney is generally inexpensive, often less than the cost of a full course dinner for two.  Don’t forget, consultations are free in certain types of cases.   A consultation is a non-committal first meeting with the attorney, generally to get some advice or to briefly review documents.   Seeing an attorney in a consultation does not mean that you have hired or retained the attorney for ongoing services. 


How Do I Hire An Attorney?


You will most likely be required to sign a retainer agreement outlining the terms of services that the attorney will provide and the fees and costs that you are expected to pay.  A retainer agreement is the contract which hires the attorney.  Some attorneys will send you a Memorandum of Understanding or other writing acknowledging that your case has been accepted, along with an outline of what the attorney will do for you and what you are expected to do as the client.  In rare cases, there is an attorney-client relationship present but there is no writing between the attorney and the client.  You are urged to demand a written retainer so that you understand your rights and the services that you should expect.  We offer written retainer agreements to our clients upon hire.



How Much Will I Have To Pay for an Attorney?


There is of course no standard answer for this question.  It depends upon the matter you want handled and maybe the reputation of the attorney or the size of the firm that you plan to use.  Be organized and succinct in your dealings with your attorney.   Keep in mind that most attorneys bill for their time and the time of their staff and not for specific results. The best advice is that you make every effort to keep your own costs down.   


Here are some tips:


(1)  Bring all documents you believe to be relevant with you to the initial consultation or the documents that have been requested by the attorney.   Failing to bring all of the necessary documents with you may require you to schedule a second meeting which may increase your fees.


(2) Organize your documents.   You will most likely cost yourself extra money when your documents are not organized.   No one wants to sort through boxes or grocery bags of unorganized papers.   And believe me, no one wants to pay an attorney for sorting through boxes or grocery bags of unorganized papers.  


(3)  Provide copies of important documents.   Some lawyers may not charge you for nominal copying, but if they do, it can become costly.   Keep in mind that in addition to the basic copying charge, you may now also be paying costs for a secretary or paralegal to copy the documents too.


(4)  Some lawyers will let you do general footwork to save costs.  Get your own medical records, pick up and drop off documents (avoid courier costs), get address and contact information for witnesses (avoid skip tracing/research costs), provide check stubs or get employers to send needed information (to avoid attorney requests). While there are some things that a lawyer cannot entrust others to do, there is no harm in asking your lawyer if there is anything you can do to reduce your costs and fees or to avoid increasing your costs and fees.


(5)  While it is fine to enjoy your conversation with your attorney, do not prolong your meetings with unnecessary information or matters that do not pertain to the case at hand.  An incessant (non-stop) and tangential (not on point) talker is more likely to pay more than a straight to the point talker.  Tell the attorney what service you want first, then give the facts of the situation.  Most attorneys will guide the consultation with a question and answer format.


(6)  Do not bring small children or unnecessary persons to your consultations.  Reschedule your appointment for another time if you do not have a babysitter. Children may be distracting and cost you more in time.  Unnecessary persons tend to want to chime in with a story and ask unnecessary questions that will cost you in the end.  You are welcome to bring persons who have information that may assist the attorney or who will be helping you through the process.   Having third persons present in the actual meeting with you and the attorney may negatively affect the standard of confidentiality between you and your attorney.


(7)  Don’t over hire or under hire an attorney or firm. You may not need your big law firm to handle everything.  Question:  Would you fly to Belgium just to get a chocolate bar?  Of course not.   Would you let your landscaper perform surgery on you?  Of course not. A firm that handles large litigation and complex corporate matters may not be one for your dispute with a small finance company.   Likewise, a small law firm may not be the one for a large complex matter that it has never handled before.  An attorney will let you know that your case or its cost effectiveness will not fit within the type of matters they handle.  Don’t insist on staying once you have been told…take your referral and go.


What’s the Difference Between Fees and Costs?


Fees are monies paid for the attorney’s time and/or expertise. Costs are costs.  Costs include expenses like copying, postage, mileage, experts, court filing fees, medical record costs, etc. The attorney is not responsible for costs in a case and you may be required to pay certain costs in advance or make a deposit towards estimated costs. Your attorney should be able to provide you an itemized statement of anticipated costs, or costs that were actually expended in your case.


What If I Really Cannot Afford An Attorney?


Depending on the type of matter and your financial resources, you may be eligible for free legal services through the statewide Legal Services programs, or state bar sponsored pro bono programs.  While there is no guarantee, ask if your attorney will allow you to pay on an installment payment basis.  If it is a criminal matter, you may be entitled to services through the state public defender or indigent assistance programs.


What’s the Difference Between An Attorney and a Lawyer?  I Noticed You Used Both.


The spelling.  Attorneys can spell and lawyers cannot.  Okay, that was just a joke to lighten your day and concerns. I hope that this information has been helpful.  


Disclaimer:  The above questions and answers were created solely by Eddye L. Lane for this website, and all answers are based solely upon her personal observation, experience and knowledge.   None of the information was obtained from a third party or from other statistical data or resources.  I stand behind my answers.