What You Need to Know About Working With a Lawyer

How to Hire, Work With, and Fire a Lawyer

How do I find a good lawyer?

You may want to start by asking family and friends if they know a lawyer who can help you.

Also, try calling your local bar association and ask for a lawyer referral service. You can find a listing of local bar associations through the American Bar Association.

Be sure to check any lawyer’s record on your state’s state bar website. This generally provides information on when the lawyer became licensed to practice law, whether he or she is still licensed, and whether there have been any disciplinary actions against them.

What type of lawyer do I need?

See our guide What Type of Lawyer Do I Need?

How do I prepare for my call or meeting with a lawyer?

Before reaching out to any lawyers, prepare yourself so you can save time and money. Write down your story, in brief, or in bullet points. Stick to the facts, and use the following questions as a guide:

  • Why do you feel you need a lawyer?
  • What specific harms did you suffer, if any? Economic, physical, mental, etc.
  • What are your specific goals – do you want financial compensation? Do you want someone to stop doing something? Do you want to make sure your business is legally on the right path?

Just as with medical issues, don’t hesitate to get a second (or third) opinion about your legal issue. Lawyers certainly don’t always agree about how to approach a particular situation.

How do lawyers charge for their services?

Traditionally, lawyers charge by the hour, usually within the range of $200 to $1000 per hour. Whether a lawyer’s legal fees are reasonable or not is a matter of the value you are receiving, and how the fees compare to what other lawyers charge.

Lawyers often require clients to make an upfront retainer payment, which is like a deposit that they will “spend down” as they work on your situation. The retainer amount is often $2,000 or more, depending on how much work the lawyer anticipates.

These hourly fees can add up quickly, and clients are often surprised at the tallies on an invoice. Fortunately, it is becoming more common for lawyers to charge alternative fee arrangements other than hourly. These include flat fees and contingency fees.

A flat fee means you just pay that total price regardless of how long a project takes. For example, a lawyer may charge a total of $2,000 to form a corporation for a client, and the client would then pay that $2,000 regardless of whether the lawyer spent 1 hour on it or 10 hours. This can be a benefit to both the lawyer and the client, as both have reasonable certainty about the total costs and there are less likely to be surprises.

Contingency fees: If you are thinking about suing (or countersuing if someone is suing you), for certain types of cases, such as employment or personal injury, you may be able to get a lawyer to handle your case for no out of pocket cost. These lawyers often simply take a percentage (often 1/3) of any money you win in court. This is called working on contingency.

Lawyers may also charge for various costs related to the work, including printing and mailing costs, filing fees, etc. But some lawyers simply include some of these as part of their legal fees, or take the costs as a business expense without passing it on to the client.

All of this information should be contained in the fee agreement or engagement agreement that the lawyer will most likely ask you to sign. If you are not satisfied with how a lawyer charges, do not hire them and find a different one. If you have any fee disputes with a lawyer, contact your state bar association.

Also see our guide How Much Does it Cost to Get Legal Help?

What are the tasks lawyers bill for?

Common tasks include performing legal research, writing memos and briefs – a legal memo or brief is an explanation of how the law applies or doesn’t apply to the client’s situation, writing emails, talking to the client on the phone or in person, talking to other people on behalf of the client, appearing in court, among other things. Some lawyers charge for every page they print, and every minute they talk to you. Others don’t worry about the minor things. Ask the lawyer how and what they bill for.

How do I fire my lawyer?

If you don’t have a case pending in court, you can generally “fire” (stop working with) your lawyer at any time. You can politely tell your lawyer you no longer need their services, and request that they refund you the remainder of the retainer that they haven’t used (note: if your agreement states that the retainer is non-refundable, you probably won’t get it back). Note that you also have a right to any documents they have worked on for you, or otherwise are holding.

If you have a case in court, you will need to ask the judge to allow you to replace your lawyer. This is usually granted, except in unusual circumstances.

Related Pages

Options to Get Legal Help

How Much Does it Cost to Get Legal Help?


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