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Frequently Asked Questions: Court Appearances; Legal Fees

Posted by attorney Jay Bodzin

Legal Fees: How are legal fees paid? Lawyers will typically accept payment in one of three ways: 1) Flat fees: You pay a certain amount up front, regardless of how long or complex the case may be. Your lawyer then works on the case until it is completed. You may still need to pay other costs, such as court filing fees or discovery costs. Your lawyer is not legally permitted to bear these costs for you (ORPC 1.8(e)). 2) Hourly fees: Your lawyer keeps track of the hours they spend working on your case, and bills you only for time they spend on you alone. When you have an hourly fee arrangement, you will provide the lawyer with a certain amount of money up front, known as a retainer. This money is deposited into a Lawyer's Trust Account on your behalf, and is withdrawn only as it is earned or used on your case. 3) Contingent fees: In cases when you expect to win a money award, you may agree to give your lawyer a percentage of that award, if any. Your lawyer does not collect any payment unless you win. You do not need to pay your lawyer anything initially, though you may still be responsible for the costs of litigation. Contingent fee agreements are not allowed in criminal or domestic relations (family) cases (ORPC 1.5(c)). What is a Lawyer's Trust Account? A Lawyer's Trust Account is a special type of bank account, operated by a lawyer on your behalf. Money you have deposited into a trust account is still your money; however, your lawyer has access to it, to pay court costs, their own fees, and other litigation expenses. When a lawyer is working for an hourly fee, once a certain time has passed (typically a month) or when the lawyer has worked a certain amount of time, they send you a bill, and deduct the billed amount from the trust account. When the trust account is empty, if your case is ongoing, you must replenish it; if any money is left in it when the case is ended, it is refunded to you. You may request your unearned money back from trust at any time. Lawyers also use trust accounts to hold money received on your behalf. Any interest earned on money held in a lawyer's trust account in the State of Oregon is paid to the Oregon Law Foundation, to help provide legal representation to low-income persons.

Court Appearances : How should I dress if I'm going to appear in court? Oregon law requires that all attorneys, when appearing in court, wear "appropriate attire" (UTCR 3.010(2)) - which means, jackets and ties for men, and the equivalent for women. Non-lawyers do not have this requirement, but they must "be dressed so as not to detract from the dignity of the court" (UTCR 3.010(1)). In practice, this means whatever the judge says it means. So we strongly advise you to dress formally. Men should wear jackets and ties; women, the equivalent. Avoid jeans, t-shirts, or too much makeup, jewelry, or exposed skin. Subtle things like formality of dress can easily decide a case. What kind of security is there at court? Almost all courthouses today have similar levels of security to airports. You will need to pass through a metal detector, and your bags are subject to search. The courts may prohibit bottles of liquid or other items; any weapons including firearms and knives are all strictly prohibited. You should allow extra time when going to court to pass through security checks. What else should I know about court etiquette? Everyone in a courtroom must stand when the judge enters or exits (they usually tell you to sit down again right away). Lawyers also stand when they speak. Non-lawyers should speak only when asked to do so. If you want to say something, tell your lawyer and let them say it for you (except for when you're testifying). You should avoid calling people by their first names in court, except for children. Above all, do not whine, rant, or interrupt. The courts are full of people who sound angry, entitled, and self-righteous, and judges get sick of it. You will always do better to sound humble. Your lawyer can help you practice how to speak in court. What if I'm in another state, or unable to attend a court date for some other reason? Most courts today allow parties to appear telephonically under certain circumstances. You provide a number for the clerk to call you, and the judge puts you on speakerphone. You must request permission from the court and/or the other parties to do this 30 days or more before you mean to appear, and if the other parties object, you must show good cause why you cannot appear in person. Witnesses can also appear in this way.

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