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How do I get a good attorney to handle litigation and how much should I reveal to avoid being taken advantage of? I want results

San Diego, CA |

I will likely be needing the services of multiple different specialists in litigation and employment / discrimination law in the near future, I wanted to know from attorneys out there, what is the best way to retain a good attorneys services without being taken advantage of?

I have heard horror stories from associates, especially who are willing to put up significant capital for representation that some just take the money and are completely ineffective.

However lets face it, litigation and legal services are expensive. It's likely also good for an attorney to know what he/she has to work with to fund the lawsuit(s) and know they will be compensated

Is it better to hire counsel on contingency? Or is it better to pay hourly? How much should you reveal about your personal finances?

I need honest answers to my questions and a realistic assessment of my cases and legal issues.. As these cases may determine my future earnings and reputation. The reason I ask is due to the fact that I've had a few consultations where the attorneys completely changed their outlook and demeanor when they found out how well funded I was. I am more than willing to pay for results, but I don't just want to pay someone to burn up the money. I have been involved in lengthy litigation before and understand the expenses that are incurred and the emotional and personal sacrifice that goes into winning a case for everyone involved on the team. What is a good balance between revealing your personal financial situation? Are there any tricks or Litmus tests I can use? Advice would be appreciated

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Attorney answers 7


Initially, it is difficult to answer because every legal situation is different. Some cases can be taken on contingency while others require an hourly fee. There are real no hard and fast rules that I can give you.

Second, understand that a retainer agreement is an arms length contract; meaning, each party is free to negotiate. You are not required to accept the terms proposed by an attorney and can suggest different terms, such as lower hourly rate, change the contingency fee percentages, the amount of retainer, etc. Always have a written fee agreement with an attorney that spells out the billing arrangement. You should take the retainer agreement home and review completely before signing. If an attorney will not give you sufficient time to review the retainer agreement that is a red flag and should proceed with caution. You should talk with as many attorneys as necessary to feel comfortable; there is nothing wrong with shopping around for the right attorney and right fee agreement.

Also, you can terminate the arrangement at any time. In an hourly fee arrangement you would be required to pay for time incurred up to the date of termination and in a contingency fee matter the attorney would have a lien for the reasonable amount of services provided. If unhappy with the amount being billed tell the attorney the problems you are having with the invoices. Finally, each county bar association has a fee dispute program that will handle claims related to billing disputes so you have a forum to challenge improper invoices.


To answer your question, there are no "tricks" per se, but you should approach this situation like you would any other business dealing. Ultimately, you will need to perform some risk/reward analysis to determine the arrangement that makes you the most comfortable.

For example, if you have a very strong case, and the rewards are likely to be in the millions of dollars, you are probably well served by hiring an hourly attorney because the amount of time required, even at an expensive hourly rate, is likely to be less than the amount of a contingency fee.

By contrast, if you have a relatively weak case, and or the value of the case is not particularly high, you might be better served by seeking a contingency fee arrangement in order to lessen your risk.

As for revealing your finances, there is no need to do that. It has no bearing on a contingency fee contract, and with respect to an hourly contract, most lawyers charge what they charge. They may be willing to reduce their fee if they believe you to be indigent, but because that is not the case, it seems like a nonstarter.

One thing you might consider doing is calling an employment law firm, asking to soak with a partner, telling him/her that you will not be training them to represent you under any circumstances, but that instead you would like to pay them a flat fee of $1000 to refer you to the best employment firm in town. If you choose this course, be adamant that they are not allowed to accept a referral fee from whomever they send you to so as to avoid any hidden bias. (In other words, hire an attorney as a consultant to help you find another attorney.)


Each attorney handles these situations differently.
But generally, an attorney will evaluate whether to take a case on a contingency based on the type of claims involved, the type of defendant, whether there is insurance or known assets available and the likelihood of success.
If a case is to be taken on an hourly basis, there will have to be some element of trust involved between the client and the attorney, since the attorney will be performing work and expecting and trusting that the client will pay for that work.
You don't necessarily have to tell the attorney what your assets are, but it might help the attorney to make a better assessment of how the representation should proceed. Sometimes, paying hourly might end up being better for you even in a case that might be considered for a contingency.


Since you did not give a lot of facts about your case, it is difficult to know which method of payment is best for you. If someone firmly believes you have a strong case, many lawyers will take on a contingency fee. But not doing employment law, and not knowing if you have the potential of getting reimbursed for attorney fees, the best way to obtain someone is to go to get a referral is from avvo's find a lawyer, or which is own by Lexis who rates attorneys through Martindale and Hubbell. Then, interview 2 or 3 people before signing on. You only get one bite at the apple and want to be confident on who you hire. Yes, litigation can be expensive, and most lawyers who work on an hourly will ask for a retainer upfront. Just don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask about recent verdicts and how many similar case the attorney has handled and what the result were. Good luck to you.


If you have a good case which will produce a substantial collectible judgment or favorable settlement you should not be worried about "being taken advantage of" by an attorney who is an expert in the field. In fact, an expert is what you want – not just any attorney who is willing to accept your case for an agreed hourly fee or on a contingency basis.

Since money does not appear to be a problem for you -- find an expert in the field and pay for a thorough analysis for your case, which includes a budget, and ask that the analysis be put in writing. It will cost, but then you can have a frank discussion regarding the merits of the case, your expectations, and the amount of money it is likely to cost to achieve your desired objective.

Litigation can be very expensive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and more is not uncommon. Costs can easily equal 10% or more of your fees. You will get the best advice from a paid consultation where the attorney is not trying to win your business just to obtain a sizeable retainer but instead is putting forth the effort required to analyze your case so that realistic goals can be set. Good luck.

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Nicholas Basil Spirtos

Nicholas Basil Spirtos


Good answer and good advice.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall


Mr. Daymude, brilliant AND practical -- once again.


I have personally tried a boatload of discrimination cases and handled another boatload of such cases on appeal before the California appellate court and the 9th Circuit. I have taught employment law and the trial techniques of employment discrimination lawsuits. I have authored and vetted anti-discrimination employment laws. But I and my law firm are NOT available to represent you, so I will instead offer you an informed but no-stake-in-the-outcome perspective. I assume for purposes of this analysis and advice that you are living on the cliffs of La Jolla and driving a customized Bentley when you are not enjoying the view with a glass of Screaming Eagle Cab. Cheers to you. I am sure you worked hard for it and deserve it.

And you deserve first-rate legal counsel. But YOU cannot afford to bring an employment discrimination case all the way through trial by paying hourly attorney fees. And it would be a terrible strategic mistake to try.

You CAN afford to engage a highly skilled and deeply experienced attorney or law firm to: conduct an independent analysis of the strength and anticipated litigation time-line and profile of your case; assist you in vetting and selecting appropriate counsel; establish a litigation work-plan and budget that can figure prominently in your vetting and selection of counsel; and preliminarily identify and justify some target objectives and settlement positions. But you can't afford to pay hourly fees over the full course of the case. And if you could afford it by accessing your borrowing power, you shouldn't. You would early on wipe out any cost-benfit in pursuing the case.

Or you can email me privately. I know three genius employment discrimination lawyers in your region who practice in this field of law, each to a standard of high art. I would trust any one of them with everything I've got or ever will have. Attorneys like these are rare and wonderful beings and not to be toyed with or abused. But I WILL share.

Christine McCall, License Advocates Law Group

No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

John R.C. Bowen

John R.C. Bowen


Given Ms McCall's extensive experience and credentials, and her enthusiastic endorsement of her unnamed colleagues, I would accept the invitation to contact her privately!


It will depend on what kind of litigation is involved -- if you have a personal injury suit, the lawyer will probably take the suit on a contingency (unless it is a medical malpractice case and then they won't take the case at all.) Several ways to find a good lawyer -- one is referrals from people you trust; another is reputation in the legal community and the community at large. Once you've found a lawyer, the terms of retention will be set out in your retainer agreement with them. Their hourly rates will be set out as will the fact that you are expected to pay costs of litigation. The costs of litigation it determined by its complexity, your communication with your lawyer, allowing your lawyer to do his/her job without interference (but certainly with your input) AND cooperation from adverse counsel, which has generally declined over the years. Finally, use common sense and choose someone within whom you feel an affinity. I would also suggest you choose someone who is straightforward in the assessment of your case and in their work for you. Don't spend money seeking revenge or trying to "get" the other guy. And one more thing, representing you is your lawyer's job, and he/she deserved to be fairly compensated.

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