Written by attorney Julie Ann Hauge Rice

How Lawyers Can Help You

For the Public How Lawyers Can Help You Identifying a Legal Problem Contacting a Lawyer Choosing a Lawyer Fees/Costs and Initial Consultation Questions to Ask Consumer Information Guides on Common Legal Matters Finding the Public Disciplinary History, Membership Status and Contact Information of an

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Choosing a Lawyer Many online resources are available for selecting a lawyer in your geographic area and in the area of expertise you need. The following is a list of suggestions that may help you as you seek a lawyer to speak with about your potential legal problem: Contact your local bar association. The State Bar of Georgia does not refer individual lawyers but some local or voluntary bars do offer a referral service. Most local bar associations have a presence on the Internet or in your local phone book. Click here to see a list of other local or voluntary bar associations throughout the state; Or, to find out the telephone number for a referral service in your area, please call 404-527-8700. Go to your local public library and ask for the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. It lists most lawyers and their area of practice within your community, the state of Georgia and the United States. If you are experiencing financial difficulties and are concerned that you cannot afford a lawyer, call your local legal aid or public defender's office to see if you qualify for representation. If your household is low-income, you may qualify for civil legal services or pro bono (no charge) services. Fees/Costs and Initial Consultation Once you have decided which lawyer to call, you should ask the lawyer whether he/she charges a fee for the initial consultation (first visit), and if so, how much. Please understand that depending on the practice area, a lawyer may charge a reasonable fee for a consultation. Whether a lawyer will charge a fee for the consultation varies based on practice area and the amount of time spent with a potential client during the initial consultation. If you decide after the first meeting that you want to hire the lawyer to represent you in the legal matter, you may want to ask for an estimated cost for services. Many lawyers will enter into a written agreement listing the fees, costs and the nature and extent of the lawyer's representation. Costs are different from fees and in civil cases include such items as filing fees, costs for a sheriff or process server to serve process in your case, copies and mediator fees. Always remember that the client is ultimately responsible for court costs, filing fees, etc. Questions to Ask The first time that you meet with a lawyer, you should be prepared to discuss and ask questions in regards to the facts of the potential legal problem that brings you to the lawyer's office. The questions below are ideas for a potential client to ask the lawyer. Based on my situation, do I have a legal problem? Make sure you fully explain your situation to your lawyer. Bring any papers or documents you think may help explain the story to the initial consultation. Make sure your lawyer covers both practical solutions to the problems as well as options available under the law. Do not try to convince the lawyer of the merits of your position by exaggerating the facts. If you know, make sure you tell the lawyer the position taken by the potential adverse party. Be sure to tell the lawyer the complete truth so that he or she can best advise you. Are you the lawyer who can help me? Is this something you routinely handle? If not, can you refer me to someone who does? It is important to discuss with the lawyer how much experience she has in dealing with cases similar to yours. If the lawyer doubts her competence to handle the matter then be sure to ask for a referral to other lawyers who are familiar with cases such as yours. Also ask about the outcome of the other cases that the lawyer has handled, as well as whether or not the anticipated fees and costs that you have been quoted by the lawyer is in line with the fees and costs charged in the other cases. How much will this cost? The lawyer should be able to give you some idea of the legal fees as well as costs (expenses for the action) associated with the legal matter for which he is agreeing to represent you. Whether you, as the client, will be charged on an hourly basis or a contingent fee basis, the reason for the fee should be fully explained to you. Before actually agreeing that the lawyer will represent you, feel free to get an explanation of the fee in writing from the lawyer and signed by both of you. See the definitions below for fees. Retainer fee. Advance payment to the lawyer for a portion of his fee. Fee. An agreed-upon percentage of any monies obtained through settlement, trial or negotiation. Hourly fee. The lawyer's hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours (or portion of hours) spent on your case. Fixed fee. A specific amount of money for a specific service. Cost advance. Periodic advance payment to the lawyer for ongoing expenses associated with litigation. Mixed fee. Combination of contingency and hourly fees. How long will it take to solve my legal problem? Below are some questions that may aid you in your discussions with the lawyer as you seek to determine the length of time expected to solve your legal problem. Again, ask the lawyer how long it has taken her to bring cases similar to yours to a conclusion in the past. Ask if your case involves issues more complex than his previous cases and whether or not that will affect the expected time to bring this case to a conclusion. Ask if there are any legal time limitations which restrict the length of time you have to bring an action. If there is no way to predict how long this matter might take, what are the reasons for that? Ask if there is anything you can do to speed up the process. What results can I expect? What do you expect to accomplish? Ask the lawyer to explain the law as it relates to your case and the effect which existing laws may have on your case. It is extremely important that both the client and lawyer fully understand each other with regard to the results expected. This should play a big part in determining whether or not the cost and the time involved in pursuing the matter are worth what is expected as a result. The Expectation of the Client and the Lawyer The lawyer and client should agree on what expectations that each have, such as settlement, mediation or trial, and how the lawyer will try to obtain those expectations. The client has a right to expect a status report of the case. Consumer Information Guides on Common Legal Matters The State Bar also publishes a variety of consumer information brochures and pamphlets to help educate the public about legal issues. Although the pamphlets are designed to inform the public, they are not designed to give advice on any specific legal matter. Click here to review the Bar's consumer pamphlets. Finding the Public Disciplinary History, Membership Status and Contact Information of an Attorney The general public now has more access than ever before to information about attorneys who are members of the State Bar of Georgia. The State Bar has considerably improved reporting of lawyer discipline information on the Bar's website. By going to the Member Directory and conducting a member directory search, anyone can look up an attorney and learn more about them. The website improvements allow users to see an attorney's public disciplinary record online, if such disciplinary record exists, as well as their current membership status and contact information. Click here to begin searching the Member Directory. The public has long been able to get this information by calling the State Bar. Now the information is also available via the Internet, any time, any day. The website displays a wide variety of sanctions, and consumers can easily read case summaries so they know why the lawyer was disciplined. The site also provides definitions of terminology, for ease of understanding. Visitors to the site are able to review an attorney's public disciplinary history, if any exists, as far back as January 1995. Click here to find which attorneys have been disciplined most recently. If you have any questions or would like information about an attorney's public disciplinary history prior to January 1995, as always, you may contact the Office of the General Counsel at 404-527-8720. If you have any questions about an attorney's membership status, you may contact the Membership Department at 404-527-8777. Please Note: With a few exceptions, attorneys who wish to practice law in Georgia are required to be members of the State Bar of Georgia. However, because of privacy concerns, some attorneys choose not to be listed in the Member Directory found on the Bar's website. Clients' Security Fund The Clients' Security Fund of the State Bar of Georgia was initially created by Resolution of the Board of Governors on March 29, 1968, at Stone Mountain, Ga. ". . . for the purpose of maintaining the integrity and protecting the good name of the legal profession by reimbursing to the extent deemed proper and feasible by the Board losses caused by the dishonest conduct of members of the State Bar of Georgia." In 1991, the Supreme Court of Georgia adopted the Rules of the Clients' Security Fund as Part X of the State Bar Rules. The Fund fulfills, in part, the duty of the legal profession to keep faith with the public and serves to maintain the profession's collective reputation for honesty and trustworthiness. Attorneys from the State Bar of Georgia Office of the General Counsel act as staff for the Clients' Security Fund. Click here to review the rules of the Clients' Security Fund. Filing a Grievance If you feel an attorney has engaged in unethical behavior, prior to filing a grievance, we encourage you to contact the Bar's Consumer Assistance Program. CAP responds to all inquiries from the public regarding all licensed attorneys and assists the public through informal methods to resolve inquiries which may involve minor violations of disciplinary standards by attorneys. Legal Resources by Subject Visit this page to find links to many law or government related resources and organizations throughout the state.

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