This guide answers questions confronting people are unsure if they need an attorney and if they do, how to find one.
Do I need an attorney?
Yes. If you wonder whether you should have an attorney, you absolutely should. The fact that you have had this thought indicates that you know that an attorney would be helpful. That is the time you should call an attorney - not after you have handled it yourself and unwittingly created a problem you were unaware of. You wouldn't do your own brain surgery so don't handle your own legal affairs. There is a reason attorneys go to three years of law school. As with doctors, their prolonged education and experience give them special knowledge and skills that enable them to best deal with your legal issues. The reason most people don't hire an attorney is money. They think they will save money handling the matter themselves. The unfortunate thing is that yes, they do save on attorney fees, but it is done at the expense of doing it right. While inexpensive legal forms are enticing they are a trap. What the manufacturers do not tell you is that in order to complete them correctly extensive legal knowledge is required. So, simple as forms appear to be, they often cause crushing costs and attorney fees that are necessary to correct the problem. As an example, I had a case where a quit claim deed was improperly completed decades ago. Had the quit claim deed been properly completed there would have been no problem and the clients would have paid nominal attorney fees. However, the clients chose to complete it themselves and decades later their mistakes came back to haunt them. In the end they had to pay exorbitant costs and attorney fees to litigate the problem they had created. Obviously their idea to save attorney fees by doing it themselves was false economy. They would have been much better off if they had hired an attorney to do it right in the first place.
Why do I need an attorney if there is a form I can use?
The first reason is that most forms fail to comply with applicable laws. The second reasson is that legal knowledge is required to complete the form properly. Either or both issues can and do invalidate documents or require a lawsuit to correct them. As a practical matter, you should do your best to avoide lawsuits because they are extremely expensive, take a long time, and cause crushing stress. And, in the end, you may lose. If you had just hired an attorney in the beginning you would have had it done right and avoided all the problems and costs of dealing with the problem, including a lawsuit. While handling your own legal matters is a bad idea, having your non-attorney "friend" help you is an even worse idea because in the end it will be you, not them, who will have to deal with the problem.
Which documents most frequently cause problems?
Many legal documents that are drafted improperly cause grave consequences. The two that I see causing the most problems are wills and quit claim deeds. Their forms are enticing because they look so simple. Unfortunely that is not the case. Much legal knowledge is required to draft them correctly and an attorney should always be hired.
How do I select an attorney?
There are a number of ways to do this. You may want to start by asking people you know if they have had good experiences with any attorneys. You may also go to places on the internet, like AVVO, to gather specific information and see how attorneys are reviewed by their clients. If you know an attorney you may call him/her and ask them to recommend an attorney. There are other ways but those are the best. If possible avoid hiring an attorney because he/she is the least expensive. You wouldn't hire the lowest paid brain surgeon so why would you hire the least expensive attorney? There are reasons for the disparity in pay which usually have to do with their results - higher pay often meaning better results.
Should I hire an attorney who gives free consultations or one that doesn't?
As with other matters in life, you usually get what you pay for. That said, some attorneys who give free consultations are good attorneys. So, when you are considering which attorney to hire you should consider all of them. It is good to make an appointment initially with an attorney you are considering hiring. To make the most of your time and money, take a list of facts (chronologically, starting at the beginning), and another list of all your questions. Those lists will allow the attorney to understand your case much faster and ensure that you don't forget to ask all of your questions.
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