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Lawyers (also called attorneys or counsel) serve as advocates for people and organizations. They represent clients both to the court and to opposing parties. Lawyers can represent clients in criminal cases, where a law has been broken, and in civil cases, in which one party is suing another.
Lawyers are also important partners in situations that don’t involve the courtroom, advising clients about their legal rights and obligations for personal or business issues. They are trained to interpret complicated systems of laws and navigate the court system.
First, a lawyer will advise you as to whether or not you actually need legal help. It’s not always obvious whether an issue is a legal matter or something that can be resolved without involving the court system. A lawyer will help you answer these initial questions.
Once you’ve decided to hire a lawyer, then they have the power to represent you to the court and to opposing parties. Your lawyer is your most important ally in any legal matter. They provide advice on how to proceed with your legal issue, and prepare important documents for you.
If your issue involves going to court, your lawyer will accompany you, and can speak for you. If your legal matter involves mediation or arbitration, your lawyer will negotiate with the opposing party on your behalf.
Many lawyers tend to focus only on one area, or several related areas of law. In your search for the right lawyer, you should look for a lawyer who understands and has experience in the specific area of law for your issue. For example, a divorce lawyer may not be able to help you if you are considering declaring bankruptcy for your business, but a bankruptcy lawyer who understands bankruptcy and business law would be a perfect match. Reputable lawyers will be upfront about their experience and specific focus, but it will save you some time by narrowing your search beforehand.
Avvo attorneys handle cases in over 120 practice areas, including divorce, criminal defense, and bankruptcy.
Practice size is definitely something you should take into account. Some firms consist of only one lawyer, while some firms retain hundreds. There are many different types of law firms, some of which focus on very specific issues, while others may be more general. For instance, a large corporate firm may not help if you only need a lawyer to review a contract or a few documents, but may be the right choice if you are filing a personal injury suit against a large company. If your legal issue involves only small sums of money, or a few documents, a small firm may be more cost-effective. The size of a practice may also determine how quickly you will be able to actually speak to your potential lawyer; larger offices may require you to schedule your initial consultation through a lawyer’s assistant or secretary.
Location is an important factor in looking for a lawyer to represent you. Since your issue will likely depend on state or local laws and regulations, you will want an attorney who understands the regulations for your location. On the practical side, you will also want a lawyer who has an office that is convenient for you to travel to. Some lawyers are willing to travel to meet you, but may also charge for travel time. It’s usually a good idea to find a lawyer located in your geographical area. Besides legal knowledge of state and local laws, lawyers also have practical local knowledge. Lawyers in specific cities or towns will also have connections to helpful agencies in that city, which will expedite the process of resolving your issue.
One of the best ways to know if an attorney is right for you are reviews. Read what previous clients have said about specific attorneys and their experiences. Once you choose an attorney to contact, read all the reviews about that particular lawyer to get an idea of how they may handle your case and interact with you.
Most lawyers accept standard payment methods, such as cash, check, and credit cards. Sometimes the method of payment will involve part of the amount of a settlement, so be sure to discuss payment options with your lawyer before signing a fee agreement. Most lawyers are also willing to set up a payment plan, if necessary.
A fee agreement, or representation agreement, is a payment agreement between a lawyer and a client. It can consist of several pages, or simply one page outlining the agreement. This document covers key issues such as how much you will be expected to pay for services rendered, how the lawyer will be paid, the timeline of payment, and which lawyer (if a multi-lawyer firm) will work on the case. Be sure to read the fee agreement carefully before signing it, so you know exactly what is expected of you and your lawyer.
This is an important question that a reputable attorney should have no problem answering. You want to find a lawyer that has experience dealing with your specific issue, and this question will help you determine whether a lawyer is right for you. Feel free to ask for specific statistics, and for their average verdict/settlement numbers in cases similar to yours.
Lawyers, like all professionals, will have varying degrees of experience. Understanding a lawyer’s previous experience is essential to understanding how they can handle your case. You’ll want to ask how many years the lawyer has been practicing. A lack of experience doesn’t necessarily make for a bad lawyer, though, especially if they have experienced lawyers around them. This is why you’ll want to ask about their workload: do they handle many cases? How much of each case do they personally oversee, and how much do they delegate to assistants?
Make sure you and your attorney are on the same page about communication. Ask about their preferred communication methods, and whether they are willing to use your preferred communication methods. Does the lawyer you are considering hiring accept (and respond to) communication via email? Will they respond if you send a text? Make sure they respond promptly (within 24 hours) to your initial inquiries--you don’t want to hire a lawyer who won’t return your calls or avoids prompt communication about your case.
It’s especially important to understand a potential lawyer’s availability. Will they be going on a three-week vacation in the middle of your case? Do they take phone calls after business hours? Do their legal assistants have a way to contact them if they are not in the office? You should have a good sense of how and when your lawyer will be available to communicate with you.