I am quite aware that the last thing most people would ever want to do in their lifetime is to hire an attorney. Except for the purchase of a home or business, for the most part, the hiring of an attorney is necessary only when a crisis occurs. It could be due to an accident, a run-in with the law, a death in the family or a divorce. On occasion, individuals may feel as if an attorney is not really necessary. Unfortunately handling a legal matter without advice from an attorney can often mean unwanted results. So how does someone decide if they need an attorney and if so who should they hire?
I have met with several individuals who have either attempted to handle their particular matter without the assistance of an attorney or they have been unhappy with the representation they have received from the attorney they, in fact, did hire. In most of these situations, I was not able to assist them in “undoing” the unwanted result. For the most part, we do not get a “do-over” in court. Once a decision is made by a judge it is in most instances a final decision. The fact that an individual feels that his/her attorney did not properly represent him/her will not be considered grounds to overturn the court’s decision. Neither will the fact that a person was unrepresented in court. Unless you are prepared to file an appeal, most people get one chance to present their case and obtain their desired results.
If the decision has been made to retain an attorney, how do you choose the one that is right for you? In our opinion, you should look for someone who has experience in the field of law that concerns your case. It is also important that you hire an attorney who will not only tell you what you want to hear but who instead provides you honest feedback thereby giving you realistic expectations of the law and how it applies to your case. In most instances, however, the most important factor is cost.
In some areas of practice, the total fee for representation can be determined at the beginning of the case. In criminal matters, there is usually a set fee quoted; depending on the severity of the offense charged. In personal injury matters, fees are usually based upon the amount recovered, with a percentage going to the attorney. These fees are called contingency fees. In family law matters fees are usually determined by the time necessary to finalize the case. This often presents a problem when I discuss fees at my initial consultation. Understandably, a prospective client wants to know what a divorce is going to cost. I explain that since my fees are based upon my time, I cannot predict the total fee unless I know the number of hours a case will take to get to completion. Not knowing the total cost of representation can make a person insecure. A retainer or down payment is required to get the case started. It is made clear to the new client that this is only a down payment and is not necessarily the total cost.
Each case is different and each attorney may have different billing practices. It is best to “shop around” and find the attorney who is best suited for your particular set of circumstances.